#YouthJusticeReimagined DJJ Watch

The fate of dueling motions from LA Supervisors about where to house LA’s “high security” DJJ kids, plus $50k exit bonuses, & the riotous emptying out of Central Juvenile Hall

Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

On Tuesday, March 15, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted on two competing motions, each of which outlined two very different solutions to the dilemma of where LA County’s “secure track youth,” should be housed now and in the foreseeable future.

The youth in question are the kids and young people who, in past years, would have been sent to California’s youth prisons, the violence-plagued facilities run by the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), which will be permanently shuttered by June 30, 2023.  

Yet, although DJJ has not yet closed its doors for good, in recent months, no additional youth are being sent to the state system.

  Instead, those youth are being “realigned,” to the care of California’s counties, each of which is receiving millions in needed funds in order to create regional systems of care, supervision, healing, and rehabilitative programs for the kids who, in the past, would have been sent to the soon-to-be-closed state facilities.

In Los Angeles County, during the 18 months since Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 823—the budget trailer bill that laid out the path to the closure of DJJ—the most quarreled over question when it comes to the county’s still-very-much-in-progress plan to reimagine youth justice for the DJJ youth, is the question of where exactly these kids will be housed.   

Dueling motions

In the hope of resolving this much discussed issue, members of the LA County Board of Supervisors introduced the two dueling motions to be voted up or down at the March 15 board meeting.

The pair of motions are mutually exclusive, since each has a dramatically different idea about the proper locations for the needed Secure Youth Track Facilities (or SYTFs), as they are now being called, to house the county’s DJJ youth.

The first of the two motions—and the one that passed today in a 4 to 1 vote—was the motion co-authored by Supervisors Holly Mitchell and Sheila Kuehl.  

This motion, would “support the exploration” of housing the male SYTF kids at Campus Kilpatrick, Camp Scott. And, when it comes to the much, much smaller number of girls who will be part of this SYTF cohort, they should housed at Dorthy Kirby Hall, which the motion points out could easily accommodate them, and their caretakers.

(Right now, the county’s 16 SYTF youth, who would have been DJJ kids, are being housed at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall, one of the county’s two youth jails, which is having its own problems right now. But we’ll get back to that issue in a minute.)

“The youth who will be committed to the secure track facility and would otherwise have gone to DJJ are our young people,” Mitchell and Kuehl write in their motion.

“They are vulnerable and profoundly in need of alternatives rooted in harm repair, healing, and preparation for their future when they return to the community. They have seen, experienced and endured a great deal of systemic and community trauma. The current systems of incarceration only perpetuate the harms they experienced because they are foundationally built out of punishment and isolation.” 

In explaining its reasoning for asking the county to move ahead with its examination of the selection of Kilpatrick and Scott, the Mitchell/Kuehl motion points to the fact that these recommended choices are in keeping with the recommendations by the county’s Youth Justice Work Group (YJWG), which assigned a subcommittee to engage in a deep examination of the possible SYTF locations.

The YJWG subcommittee was helped in its task by the fact that its members began their analysis after it had been pre-analyzed by probation in collaboration with facility experts, in order to assess the pros and cons of the county’s various licensed juvenile facilities. 

After much investigating, along with multiple public town halls on the topic of where to house the DJJ youth, the JJRBG subcommittee recommended Camp Afflerbaugh, Camp Paige, Campus Kilpatrick, Camp Scott, and Dorothy Kirby Center (for females) as feasible sites. 

However, before the list could be further whittled down, residents of communities in which Camps Afflerbaugh, Paige, and Scott were located learned of the possible SYTF site selections, and pushed back very hard and loudly at the notion of having any DJJ youth in their backyards.

Lawsuits were threatened.

DJJ and the LA Model

The Mitchell/Kuehl motion attempts a compromise with the highly vocal residents groups by taking Camps Afflerbaugh and Paige off the table, but keeping Scott, and focusing mostly on Kilpatrick, which has already been designated as a temporary SYTF, for the small but growing cluster of DJJ kids who are presently housed under less than ideal circumstances at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall. 

Central to the Mitchell/Kuehl motion is the use of Kilpatrick, which they point out is unique among the county’s youth facilities. 

When the $53 million campus opened in July 2017, it was designed as an innovative pilot for a therapeutic, research-guided, “trauma-informed” environment—the LA Model this method was called—which would, it was hoped, set a new standard for how the county treats the lawbreaking kids in its care.  

Mitchell and Kuehl suggest moving the existing LA Model out of Kilpatrick to another existing youth camp that is presently vacant, and use the attractive Campus Kilpatrick location to jump-start an enlightened SYTF model for LA County

In the beginning at least, Malibu residents didn’t seem to be against the use of Kilpatrick for the DJJ kids, since Campus Kilpatrick, and the now closed, Camp David Gonzales, had been operating in the hills above Malibu for a long time without any real incident. 

(Well, without incident except for the fact that Campus Kilpatrick along with staff and kids came perilously close to burning to the ground, while still inhabited, during the 2018 Woolsey fire, due to the unaccountable and near tragic failure of probation higher-ups to give the go-ahead for a timely evacuation. But, we digress.)

The Barry J option

Supervisor Kathryn Barger is the author of the competing motion which it turns out did not passed on Tuesday. Yet it had its merits.

Supervisor Barger’s motion asked the county to move toward the selection of a “reimagined” Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall as the county’s main SYTF for the DJJ youth.

In explaining her choice, Barger pointed out the fact that [as WitnessLA has reported), in October 2018, the California Department of Justice initiated an investigation into the conditions at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall and Central Juvenile Hall, which resulted in a large legal settlement that mandates a long list of changes at the two facilities. 

“As a result of this investigation,” Barger writes in her motion, “in January 2021 the CAL DOJ and the county agreed on twelve objectives for corrective action that include, a homelike environment and operations; (2) technology and data management; (3) use of force and youth safety; (4) trauma-informed and positive behavior approaches…” and more.

And so since  Barry J.  has to “reimagine” itself anyway, it is the easiest and quickest choice for housing DJJ youth permanently, she concludes.

Barger’s motion is also  based on a February 8, 2022, report from Probation Chief Adolfo Gonzales, which also makes the case for using Barry J as the place that can most easily be converted to an SYTF environment that could be gotten up and running fairly quickly.

And, as the report notes, it wouldn’t trigger lawsuits from the various communities in which the other possible sites are located.

More possible community freak outs

Although Malibu residents had not been particularly vocal about having DJJ  youth at Kilpatrick, more recently, there have reportedly been rumblings of discontent.  Thus, late last week, hoping to calm any concerns, Supervisor Keuhl wrote an open letter to Malibu residents, which began appearing over the weekend.

Campus Kilpatrick, Keuhl wrote, “is a locked facility where young people live in a therapeutic home-like setting and are provided with individualized, trauma- informed plans to help them heal, build skills, and transition to responsible and constructive lives.”

She also points to the fact that  Campus Kilpatrick “has always included some young people charged with serious offenses, and our committed Probation staff and community-based providers have done a wonderful job supporting them.” 

We anticipate, she wrote,  that the number of young people added to the current Kilpatrick population will be gradual, starting with a handful and never exceeding more than a few dozen. The Board is asking communities throughout the County to support these young people.” 

$50,000 exit bonuses, a few riots, & temporary shut down of Central Juvenile Hall

While LA County struggles with the question of where to house, the DJJ kids, in CA’s still open youth prisons conditions are reportedly going from bad to worse, for both youth and staff members, as the system moves toward the scheduled June 30, 2023 closure. 

One of the largest problems at the moment, is the lack of adequate staffing due to the fact that, with the eventual shuttering on the horizon, DJJ staff have been leaving to find other jobs, causing staff shortages to become so dire that the state has been bringing in guards from the adult prisons to fill the gap.

Now, as of this past Friday, WitnessLA has learned the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), the powerful prison guards’ union, has been negotiating with state officials and the governor to agree to giving staff members each an $50,000 exit bonus if they agree to stay with DJJ until the doors are closed for the final time. (Actually, it would be $50K for “direct staff,” $25K for non-direct staff,

Text from the chief

The riotous emptying of Central Juvenile Hall

Then, if all this wasn’t enough to worry about, back in Los Angeles County, in response to the looming threat that the California Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) could declare Central Juvenile Hall unfit for youth habitation if it doesn’t make the proper corrections in the coming months, Chief Gonzales sent a notification out to Central’s staff telling them that both kids and staff needed to be moved out of Central to Barry J Nidorf Juvenile Hall over the weekend, a location where everyone would remain for the next 90 days while repairs were made to the facility, which is in a fairly awful state.

(As readers may remember, last fall the BSCC voted unanimously to declare that LA County’s two juvenile halls — Barry J. and Central — were so far out of compliance when it came to multiple basic standards of care, the two lock-up for kids were declared “unsuitable for youth habitation.”)

The sudden nature of the move reportedly triggered at least two youth riots between Friday and Sunday, as the Central kids arrived at Barry J, unit by unit, over the weekend.

Two veteran probation staff members we interviewed (who asked not to be named) said that 90 days is not close to enough time to do the clean up, the repairs, and the other long delayed upgrades and maintenance needed if Central is going to become reasonably habitable.

More as we know it.


  • Your article fails to mention why residents in those neighborhoods don’t want those youths housed nearby; because many of them have committed violent crimes such as murder. Some of them will be as old as 24 years old; they’re not little kids locked up for writing on walls.

  • Staff are barely able to control the kids Probation has now thanks to LA BOS and Probation management stripping essential tools needed for group control. Imagine when they have to supervise these older youths that are more sophisticated. People will get hurt thanks to terrible decisions made by Sacramento.

  • I’m a 38 year veteran of the L.A. County Probation Department. I worked both line and management positions so I feel that I am qualified to comment.

    I was witness to the evolution in how institutions are run and have been following this issue since retirement.

    First I have to say that Juvenile Probation, both institutional or field is largely misunderstood by the decision makers in L.A. County. The following reflects this

    The concept of rehabilitation for many is flawed.

    The use of Barry J. for the kids being considered is not the best idea. The design of the units that I presume will be used was flawed. There is a history there.

    The Probation Department does not staff their facilities adequately.

    The recruitment of deputies does not reflect hiring the most suitable people.

    There used to be 2 mothballed CYA facilities in L.A. County that were designed better and were more secure. I doubt the State values those properties.

    Programming in L.A. County Probation Facilities does not promote a safe environment nor does it give each minor permission to change.

    I can go on and on. YOU have my e-mail.

  • Hi Celeste.
    I keep an open mind knowing full well that WLA is a voice for juvenile justice and detained youth. And most articles have a tendency to be one sided. I applaud you for this article just like I applauded the article on our fallen DSO.

    I was reading this “LACo Governance Study in 2016 about our (3) LACO Probation Halls and camps. A majority are closed today.
    The BOS hired people in with PhD’s, MBA’s, M/H, Educators who specialize in Childhood development, attorneys , probation industry leaders, Child advocates , former detainees, and more. They collaborated and published this 120 page document about the state of probation. That study basically said CJH should be the first hall to be closed back then because it would cost too much to bring up to code. So, they closed a newer facility instead, LPJH. Maybe it was politics or established relationships that allowed CJH remained open even if it was held together with duck tape and bandages. To be fair, LPJH had its issues as well.
    I’m looking at the bigger picture.
    Here’s something else to consider. USC want that Eastlake/ CJH property so they can continue to expand their USC Medical Campus. We get it that the BSCC voted the CJH facility is deemed inhabitable and if corrected 90 days they’ll have a reopening. Right. Well, well well. Common sense kicks in. Where’s the money gonna come from since phase one of the new Reform took $70+Million.
    Why sink 10’s of millions of tax dollars into an aging facility knowing full well that the BOS unanimously voted to shut down all LA Co juvenile halls in favor of non-profit group homes. We got too many kids who age out of foster care and need affordable hosing transition opportunities.
    I like this article.

  • Thanks for this article. We gotta stop this demonizing youth. The Probation Department needs to bold up and be ready for change. If I want to, I can tell you every single name of every DPO 1, 2, and 3 that used to let me fight in the showers, brought lighters to me, brought me cellphones, and encourage gang behavior.the probation department is no expert in youth development or accountability. Most of their money goes to staff benefits and salary. It’s so disappointing and shocking that people who claim to be religious and that they care that they are still willing to talk about youth in such a horrible way. This can be YOUR CHIlDREN too. I can help make your communities better because I’m a credible messenger. You need me in your communities. Thanks and yes to saving youth lives. #notobarryjnidorf

  • I worked in multiple camps as a supervisor and multiple camps as a Director and have watched the juvenile probation system steadily unravel. There are issues in all directions – antiquated juvenile facilities, some top leaders, funding, staffing, discipline, opinions re what works in corrections and an endless change of Chiefs and Policies that have contributed to instability. For years the Department has simply said yes and nodded to the Board. It has never felt like the Board understood what we do – nor did they care to listen. At the same time, the hiring, discipline, Return to Work and promotional processes also began to erode.

    For the benefit of those that don’t know, about 15 years ago, a shift started to occur re who would be detained and with respect to authorizing camp recommendations in court reports. It used to be that camps held a variety of offenders – from relative lightweights to very criminally oriented youth. Nearly all were gang affiliated. It was rare to have fights and even rarer for a staff member to be attacked.

    At present, independent of an occasional “contempt of judge” detention order, most detained youth are in for a probation violation or a serious pending charge(s). As the department continues to close facilities and reduce our detained population, the reality is even many of these types of offenders aren’t being detained. They are in the community – likely laughing at the justice system.

    Those that are detained have quickly figured out that staff have few tools to deal with misconduct that mean a thing to them. So, many are openly defiant. They are also larger and sometimes stronger than staff. But the department thinks it wise to take away pepper spray….Staff resort to begging, cajoling or even bringing them treats, etc. to gain compliance and keep the peace. When the youth are running a facility behind the scenes, then the strongest gang members are calling the shots. The remaining kids don’t want to be hurt inside or post release, so guess who’s instructions they follow?

    The hiring, promotional and discipline processes are all also problematic for various reasons but in the end, it doesn’t matter who you hire because good staff burn out rapidly when they work in places that are dangerous, have no tools to defend themselves and are in many places, overwhelmed with administrative paperwork. A few years ago, one entire new class of Detention Services Officers resigned. I’ll bet LAPD and LASD have never had an entire class resign. That should have told the Board something about working conditions – and if those conditions are bad for staff – they are bad for kids too. I ran into a long time physician that once worked in our institutions out in the community. She shared that she had left because she felt it had become too dangerous. Some good teachers have left for the same reason.

    Everything I have described – and this is the tip of the iceberg – is symptomatic of a poorly led agency and a Board that reacts to every complaint and refuses to let the Probation Chief manage their agency. Did we have some bad staff that needed to be disciplined or fired? Absolutely. Should there be changes to make things better? You bet. But common sense about the realities of working with the populations we serve has gone out the window and that serves no one.

    I close by noting that by the time a youth is ordered to a DJJ equivalent facility in L.A. County, they typically have an arrest record a mile long and have failed all levels of probation intervention or, they have committed an extremely serious crime. Local residents SHOULD be concerned about having DJJ level youth in camps near their homes. I wish them luck, as well as all the hard working staff that go to work and keep trying. God bless you.

  • Mr. Kent Mendoza, your hands are not exactly clean, either: staff “let” you fight; you asked staff for lighters? You should give the names of these staff. They have no place in the department and your silence isn’t helping the minors that we are responsible for supervising.

  • I practice Internal Medicine and Pediatrics in the same community. I understand the dignity that every person deserves, and that certain people are disadvantaged from birth. I also understand that many children in our communities sustain enormous abuse and that it is our job to help them. My only issue with the recent closure is that seems to have nothing to do with anyone’s best interest. The children many of whom need a program because of their special needs were uprooted without as much as 24 hours’ notice. They were taken to a facility (Barry J Nidorf) with no laboratory, no pharmacy, no optometry and with not enough room for medical staff to see the children. Physicians were called Friday night to be made aware of the changes programmed for the next week. Only to find that from some of the nurses, that children were being evacuated that very same night. Some nurses and probation staff showed up Monday morning to work at Central Juvenile Hall only to be told that they now needed to make their way to Barry J. Nidorf in Sylmar. Dignity should be afforded to the medical staff as well. It is interesting that you mention a 50,000 dollar bonus to retain probation staff, which speaks more to an emphasis on incarceration and surveillance. Both Central Juvenile Hall and Barry J Nidorf have had their problems for many years. Almost a year before the planned closure of Juvenile Detention Centers in June of 2023 the Bored of Supervisors see thee urgent need to displace kids and disrupt the life of their health care providers overnight. If I am not mistaken this is the same entity that built a new Los Angeles County Hospital with half the inpatient beds of the old hospital which resulted in longer Emergency Department wait times. The BOS describe the renovation of Central Juvenile Hall as Sisyphean task however it seems that the difference hear is that they keep kicking the boulder down the hill. You can’t feign support and then act like you are coming down hard on a failure you helped create. I truly believe that this is a fiscal matter for the BOS. It’s cheaper to farm out the care of these youth to “nonprofit partners”, regardless of the outcomes. To Mr. Mendoza on his previous comment on the importance of true messengers, I totally agree. Don’t forget that no person should be demonized including some of the dedicated professionals that have made it possible for survivors like yourself to have a voice. We all need each other. As a street smart kid, I wouldn’t be surprised if the county sells that property to USC despite their recent and past track record.

  • The fact of the matter is all of this is poor management by BOS AND PROBATION. This department does a lot great things yet all we see is the 1% of staff that participate in misconduct being broadcast. Staff are currently being “deployed” an actual term being used to send field staff to cover institutions. There is no consideration being taken for ill or elderly staff. They are callously deploying line staff and we don’t even know WHY?! Perhaps because we have piss poor hiring practices, perhaps because whole classes of newly hired staff QUIT! Once they learn of the truth about their work conditions. A workplace won’t be efficient if the employees are disgruntled. I know plenty of people ready to walk away from LA COUNTY PROBATION. Staff receive no support and yet they are tasked with dealing with high risk offenders with no tools or than motivational interviewing or DBT?!

  • Fx – Love your humor. I wonder if they’d even be detained…Perhaps since this hit the news they would be but it’s a crap shoot.

    Mr. Mendoza, Please provide those names. Those aren’t people that deserve a badge and they give everyone else that does a bad name. Please call or mail Probation HQ in Downey with your information. And btw – since you appear to have answers, please let us know how you’d stop crime.

  • Your article is giving good information but everyone seems to leave out that the kids, youth, adults are not there just to be in a locked facility. When the BOS makes decision on probation why is there never actually staff working on in line the trenches never on the panel due to no one wants to hear the truth they just want their views and pockets lined. It has always been said please let any BOS, advocate, lawyers and anyone really interested in the youth and hall come and work a shift and then let’s have a true sit down and talk.

  • Thank you for a great article. As an employee working at multiple camps and the halls over the years I am sometimes astonished by the efforts put forth by the advocates on behalf of the youth. I do agree that many of these youth have experienced traumas that have put them at a disadvantage and therefore led to poor choices that resulted in incarceration. But if the answer is putting the resources into ‘community based, non-profit’ efforts, why are these entities not working with these youth on the front end in elementary and middle school settings. These at-promise youth would benefit from your interventions well before they come into contact with law enforcement. Perhaps a guiding factor for identification can be school attendance. Start attending the SARB meetings. You’d be able to identify those youth that are not attending class readily instead of waiting for them to get detained and expecting the system to turn them into Rhodes scholars….

  • Long term officers are burned out and new officers are walking around doing nothing everyday. An audit for compliance along with special assignments should not be done by new officers.

  • @Kent Mendoza: Were you ever on Probation in Los Angeles County or actually in one of its juvenile halls or camps? Or was your experience in some other county? Just a quick fact check to clarify where your lived experience was actually experienced. I’ll call your bluff.

  • While I don’t argue with the fact that appropriate facilities and programs need to be provided for these criminal youth I take great issue with the fact that your article provides only a brief touch point on the other side of these proposed facility solutions.

    Camp Scott is located only 300 feet from hundreds of residential family homes and nearby elementary schools. It is also located in a fire and flood zone of a two Lane road which provides the only the evacuation route.

    The fact that we the residents strongly oppose this potential threat to the safety of our families, our evacuation routes, our children’s schools, the huge increase in traffic and the value of our homes is completely ignored in your article. Furthermore, your article completely ignores the fact that, given our very valid objections, the county is prioritizing the needs of these troubled, but criminal youth, 100% above the rights and needs of the law abiding citizens who are directly impacted.

    There are other options that are being ignored. The fear our children are expressing in potentially living in such close proximity to this type of Criminal element is every bit as valid and worthy of whatever needs these men have.

    The issues at hand should be presented in such a way as to provide the complete picture including the impacts to the law abiding citizens of this outrageous proposal.

  • I wish all who were commenting on this article that have great input would actually speak or comment in on a Board of Supervisors meeting. Some of you have hands on experience and need to be heard! The Board of Supervisors are making decisions based on whatever cheaper options exist and keeping those dollars in their pockets. Board of Supervisors should be audited to be accountable to every penny they spend. I am saddened these children’s outcomes will not be very good considering the lack of staffing, tools, etc etc. I know this is bold , but why not have the military run these camps? (which would include medical/ therapy) Actually there’s already similar programs in place to model from but it’s not for youth offender’s, just youth in general that want to change their life around. They could have different camps according to how severe the youth offender is. Just a thought.

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