A boy was found dead of a drug overdose at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall Tuesday morning.
According to our sources the teenager was found unresponsive on the floor of his room in what is known as Unit X. Staff called for medical help but reportedly it was too late. He was pronounced dead at approximately 8:28 a.m.
“Our nursing staff immediately administered emergency services, including the use of Narcan,” said LA County Probation’s Chief Strategist for Juvenile Operations, Guillermo Viera Rosa, in an e-mailed statement.
The boy was not taken to the hospital. Yet there are suggestions the teenager may have been dead for a while, and was found during a cyclical room check on Tuesday morning.
There is also a report that, as is too often the case, on Monday night some staff members were held over for unhealthily long shifts, and were exhausted, which may have led to missed room checks.
Barry J, as it is known for short, is one of the county’s two extremely trouble-plagued two youth lock-ups that have become unsafe for both youth and staff.
Unit X is the unit that houses youth who have been transferred from California’s youth prisons, the Department of Youth Justice (DJJ), which will be permanently shuttered this summer. These and certain other units are known as “Secure Youth Track Facility” units, or SYTF.
As WitnessLA has reported previously, there has been a dangerous drug overdose problem in the youth facility located in Sylmar, CA.
“Heroin and fentanyl has been rampant throughout the facility,” a probation officer reminded us this morning.
In early February of this year, five kids overdosed on fentanyl at Barry J, with one of the kids overdosing twice. In each case, a staff member administered Narcan, and young people were transported to medical facilities and survived.
According to WitnessLA’s probation sources, in some cases (but certainly not all) the drugs youth use in the facility are brought in by staff members. Yet there are multiple ways that kids seem to be acquiring narcotics.
(Note: The term “staff member” describes a wide variety of people who work in the youth halls.)
There is no information yet about how the young man got the drugs that killed him this morning. Staff have reportedly been told by supervisors to treat the boy’s room as a crime scene, and not to clean things up.
“He was a really good kid,” said a female staff member, who had worked with the boy who died.
For the last three months, those in and around Barry J have told us that it is only blind luck that someone hasn’t died in the facility in the last few months, either a kid or an adult.
And now someone has. Specifically, a teenage boy in the county’s care.
Lack of compliance
Early in February, the members of the California Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) presented a report showing that Barry J. and Central juvenile halls were extravagantly out of compliance with state regulations when it comes to the most basic standards of care and safety for the young people in residence at the two facilities.
After the string of February non-fatal overdoses of youth, on March 7, of this year, the LA County Board of Supervisors fired Probation Chief Adolfo Gonzales, and replaced him with his second in command, Karen Fletcher, naming her as Interim Chief.
Yet, things did not improve measurably in the halls.
On April 4, the county took the unusual step of hiring Guillermo Viera Rosa in the newly created position of “Chief Strategist for Juvenile Operations” for the Los Angeles County Probation Department.
On Monday of last week, Karen Fletcher resigned from her position as Interim Chief, reportedly over a disagreement with Viera Rosa. She is scheduled to fully retire on May 19.
A few days after Fletcher’s announcement that she was retiring, Viera Rosa sent out a statement about the need to find solutions to the urgent problems facing the nation’s largest youth probation system.
“Now, more than ever, we need to partner with families, labor, and other stakeholders to ensure we are creating the best environment for our youth to succeed,” he wrote.
As we were reminded this morning, there is a long way to go.
“We have notified the family and will cooperate fully with law enforcement on a thorough investigation of the incident,” Viera Rosa said in today’s statement about the boy’s death. “We have also dispatched peer-support personnel and mental-health professionals to the facility for crisis counseling of youth and our staff.”
The BSCC and unsuitability
Meanwhile, on May 23, when the California Board of State and Community Corrections or BSCC next meets, the state oversight board will be forced by law to declare Barry J and Central Juvenile Hall “unsuitable for youth habitation.”
This is an action that according to civil rights lawyer, Sean Garcia-Leys, director of the Peace and Justice Law Center (PJLC), should have taken place, legally speaking, at the last BSCC meeting in April. But it didn’t.
Instead, the board caved in to LA County’s pressure, and did not issue the required “unsuitable for youth habitation,” finding, the attorney said.
Now, in order to dodge a lawsuit that Garcia-Leys and PJLC, plus the Children’s Defense Fund, and the Youth Law Center were collectively about to file, the BSCC agreed that, indeed, it would issue the required “unsuitable” finding at its May 23 meeting.
LA County will then have 60 additional days to move nearly all the kids in residence at the two facilities somewhere else.
That somewhere else will probably be, at least in part, the now closed Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall, although how the move would cure the existing dysfunction that underlies the BSCC’s concerns is not clear.
At least some of the pre-dispositioned kids may be sent home. (Pre-disposition youth are kids who are charged with something but who have not had a “disposition” hearing, which is akin to a sentencing hearing in adult court.)
As for the rest…although we hear that an area of Los Padrinos (LP) is in okay shape as, recently, it’s been serving as a shelter for adults. Much of the rest of LP is reportedly a mess.
In any event, it is our understanding that Barry J and Central Juvenile Halls will be closed to youth residence no later than July 23rd.
At least, mostly closed.
Weirdly, though, even after Barry J is deemed “unsuitable,” according to the BSCC, the SYTF youth will be able to remain in the Sylmar facility, because the state oversight doesn’t have legal jurisdiction over former DJJ youth.
Now, however, we are hearing that leaving the SYTF youth in place is not really legal either.
The CA AG speaks
And if that wasn’t enough, today California Attorney General Rob Bonta issued a statement applauding a brand new court ruling granting a motion by the California DOJ to enforce a 2021 stipulated judgment against LA County Probation, requiring the county to remedy the “illegal and unsafe conditions of confinement at its two juvenile halls.”
AG Bonta called Tuesday’s court ruling “a necessary step forward to rehabilitating a broken system that must be reformed.”
Then Bonta wrote what many have been thinking all day.
“The reports of a young life senselessly lost and young people endangered while in custody are horrifying and unacceptable.”
More soon. So watch this space.