Youth Justice Reimagined

Groundbreaking Settlement Between LA County & AG Becerra Demands that Kids In LA Lock-Ups Must Be Treated as If they matter

Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra  has announced a legal settlement with Los Angeles County, and also with the LA County Office of Education (LACOE), that together require a transformation in the way the county treats the kids in its two juvenile halls.

The dual settlements have come after the state’s Department of Justice engaged in a deep probe, beginning in October 2018, looking at how LA County treats the kids in its youth detention facilities — namely its two juvenile halls, Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall located in Sylmar, and Central Juvenile Hall, located northeast of downtown LA.

As part of the investigation, the investigators from the office of AG Becerra (who is about to become President-elect Joe Biden’s Secretary of Health & Human Services) conducted multiple site visits, interviewed more than 80 witnesses, and “reviewed thousands of pages of documents.”

What the investigation turned up was not good.

The problems calling out for correction are outlined in the legal complaint, which led to the brand new settlement. Among the most critical issues the DOJ found, was their documentation of the county’s widespread pattern of an insufficiency of services for kids, and a pattern of endangering youth safety, including the following:

– At both of the County’s Juvenile Halls, some staff employ unlawful, excessive physical and chemical force against detained youth.

— In several of the incidents, the complaint notes, excessive use of force in the juvenile halls has led to criminal prosecution of staff involved. For example, on April 24, 2016, video revealed four probation officers in BJN beating a non-combative 17-year-old youth for two minutes while a supervisor watched. (WitnessLA originally broke the story of this beating.)

Witnesses have reported, according to the investigators,  excessive and inappropriate use of force incidents, including
youth being slammed to the floor when they were not resisting or engaging in any physical aggression.

And at both Juvenile Halls, the complaint reports, youth have frequently experienced unlawful use of OC spray (pepper spray) when no such high level crisis intervention was called for or permitted.

In a 2019 report by the Office of the Inspector General, the complaint notes, “one witness familiar with conditions in the juvenile halls stated that some supervisors were telling unit staff to ‘spray first and ask questions later.'”

There is also a section about youth who were sprayed not being allowed by staff to decontaminate properly and in a timely way from the spray. (WLA has written about such incidents, including this alarming 2019 allegation, and its accompanying lawsuit, that continues to move forward.)

Interestingly, the complaint notes that the  board of supervisors drafted a plan in June 2019 to phase out OC spray, “with an estimated cost to Probation of nearly $39 million.” As of now, however, according to the AG’s investigators, the board has reportedly not fully funded the plan.

When it comes to youth safety, the complaint reported incidents at both of the halls, such as the teenage boy at  Central Juvenile Hall, who reported that staff set him up for assault by moving him to a unit with known “enemies” and then failed to stop the assault after it began.

And so on.

Although there was a lot documented having to do with the safety for the youth in the two halls,  many of the complaint’s main concerns were in the arena of education, programming, and the living environment that the two juvenile halls provided for kids, which the complaint described as often being in blatant violation of state codes.

Ignoring the rules?

The county’s juvenile halls, stated the DOJ complaint,  are required to be “safe and supportive homelike environment[s]” that are not treated as “penal institution[s],” according to the state’s Welfare and Institution Code. Instead, reported the investigators, the environment in both of the county’s juvenile halls is “unsafe, unsupportive, and unsuitable for youth.”

State investigators further found that the county has subjected the resident kids to “conditions of confinement that must be reserved for adult penal institutions,”  and that youth were regularly deprived  “of their basic needs,” including outside exercise, programming, religious services, and adequate and timely medical care and mental health care,

“Room confinement,” the complaint states, is used  improperly for punishment in violation of California law, including with respect to youth with disabilities.

Another interesting finding had to do with staffing.   The complaint was critical of LA County Probation for not developing g a plan for recruiting and hiring staff “with a focus on youth development, expertise in working with youth with mental illness, and with common life experience and language that enhance the ability to relate to and supervise youth.”

They quoted a report from the LA County Attorney General’s office AG’s office which outlined how probation places “new hires with the least experience, training, and education” in the two juvenile halls first, as part of a step process to promotion to the youth camps, and then the adult field services, an issue that many staff members have mentioned in the past.  This means, said the IG’s report, that staff members who may not be interested in or have the proclivity for with youth, are put in the halls, instead of seasoned staff who truly want to work with youth, and who are good at it.

When it came to the physical facilities themselves, the complaint was scathing.  Both Central Juvenile and Barry J were in need of serious “repairs, renovations, and remodeling.”  The individual rooms and the collective areas were described as “counter-therapeutic” in the extreme.  Rather than helping to “stabilize and enhance the youth’s functional abilities,” the environments  likely “contribute to the youth irritability and overall behavioral issues,” stated the head of the county’s Department of Mental Health.

There’s lots more, but the bottom line is that, as a result of the state’s investigation and resulting legal complaint, the AG’s office has entered into a settlement in which the County of Los Angeles — including its Probation Department, Department of Mental Health, and Department of Health Services — along with the Los Angeles County Office of Education — has agreed to take a wide range of corrective actions, which will be overseen by an independent monitor and at least two subject matter experts.  LACOE and the county have four years to hit all the marks that are laid out by the settlement.

“One of our core duties as a society is to lay the foundation for our children to build a better future,” said Attorney General Becerra when the settlement was announced on Thursday.

“That has to be at the center of what we do as government when youth are entrusted to our care,” he said. “Regardless of what got them there, our youth deserve a chance to prepare themselves to launch a better life. We cannot condone or ignore any system that allows our kids to be mistreated or dehumanized. I applaud the county for working with us to correct the wrongs uncovered by our investigation and committing to help these youth get the resources they need.”

And, just FYI: we were interested to know how many of the stories that WitnessLA investigated and broke exclusively were among the problems that the investigators and the AG’s legal complaint believed were critical enough to highlight.  (We noted a couple for readers, but there were more.)

The settlement

The series of goals that the county is required to meet include the following:

*Homelike environment and operations, ensuring youth are housed in warm, homelike living units

*Technology and data management, facilitating data collection and analysis required to demonstrate compliance with the settlements and allow for adequate ongoing internal review

*Use of force and youth safety, limiting use of force, as well as requiring de-escalation and outside oversight and review of incidents

*Trauma-informed and positive behavior approaches, enhancing holistic efforts to support youth

*Improving practices and safeguards to ensure youth are not unlawfully confined to their rooms;
Basic living needs and juvenile hall conditions, including the provision of necessities such as hygiene items, bedding, and access to the bathroom

*Programming, recreation, exercise, religious services, visitation, and telephone calls, ensuring and documenting that youth have access to legally required programs

*Mental health, medical care, and treatment plans, ensuring timely medical and mental healthcare

*Education, transition, and after-care, ensuring youth are provided appropriate education time and improving the process for transitioning youth back to school in the community

*Staffing, hiring, and training, requiring sufficient staffing and training to comply with the settlements

*Oversight and grievance systems, providing a trustworthy avenue for youth to get problems addressed

*Compensatory services for youth, helping fill the gap for youth who were improperly denied education during their detention.

“This groundbreaking settlement opens a new chapter in Los Angeles County’s commitment to serving the young people in our care,” said LA County Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda L. Solis in a statement.  “It is an important element in the extensive juvenile justice reforms underway to ensure that while these youth are in the County’s camps and halls, they receive the support and education they deserve in a non-punitive environment.”

And in related news elsewhere in the state

Last month, Becerra also took legal action to ensure compliance with a court order aimed at protecting children from abuse and neglect in Humboldt County.

The AG also secured settlements with school districts in Barstow, Oroville, Sausalito Marin City School District, Stockton, and the Mojave Unified School District. to address, “discriminatory treatment of students based on race and disability status.”

To further cover like problems around California, Becerra issued an alert to all school districts in the state reminding school leaders of their obligation to “protect the civil rights of students,” especially in the face of ongoing reports indicating that implicit bias among school administrators leads to students of color, and those with disabilities “being disproportionately subjected to disciplinary action.”

Postscript

Anyone who sees what they perceive to be a violation of state or federal law involving youth, may report them to the DOJ’s Bureau of Children’s Justice,  via an online complaint system. Or they may submit a complaint by email at bcj@doj.ca.gov

23 Comments

  • Who’s going to “demand” that these “kids'” victims be treated as if they matter?

    Yeah, that’s what I thought.

  • Dope of Reality, do you get notifications when Celeste posts a new piece? You live for this, don’t you? I know its a bitch not being able to express your thoughts in public for fear of losing your government job.

    To answer your question as to who demands that these kids’ victims be treated as if they matter, we do, society does, you, me, everyone. That is why they are sitting in juvenile hall, because they did something or are charged with something that we, as a society, feel is wrong. That is why they were arrested, maybe by you. That is why they had or have hearing(s) in front of a judge to determine their fate. That is why they are sitting in juvenile hall, and, when released, why they will be on probation, because disapprove about what they did and we care about the victims. That is why victims are entitled to certain services and programs, and maybe compensation, because we, as a society, said they matter. Does that answer your idiotic question?

    BTW, has the FBI caught up with you and the other racist clowns on this site? I’m assuming you went on the DC field trip. I see they have caught up with a few racist cops that were on the Capitol. I am telling you, Trump was right about getting tired of winning. I am exhausted.

    • Childish Fool,

      Ahh, yes, the liberal cat lady is back to spew her venom. Of course you are ASSuming I went to the Constitutionally protected protest. It’s funny how you liberals not only attend but participate in Burn, Loot, Murder crime sprees that are reported as “mostly peaceful protests,” but in reality were organized chaos that left billions of dollars of damage and injured/dead people in their wake.

      But God forbid one protest get out of hand, and it’s the worst thing ever. And I will agree that it was horrendous, which was exactly what the antifa/BLM goal was. To ensure this, they planted terrorists like John Sullivan in the crowd.

      But to address your question directly – nope, I wasn’t there. But I support their position that the election was stolen from Trump. You won’t read this https://hereistheevidence.com/ to become informed about the evidence.

      • With all due respect, the election was not stolen and there has been ZERO evidence of massive election fraud. That’s why efforts to derail a lawful and proper election have failed in court, after court, after court and state after state. Do you really think such proof would have stayed quiet in every state in the union? Mr. Trump started planting the notion of election fraud months prior to the election. For his followers, a tried and true tactic.

        Antifa and BLM were not involved in the horrific conduct that occurred at the Capitol. Do you really think their latest tactic is to bus in a bunch of ZZTop looking white guys to pretend to be Trump supporters to promote their cause? Please…The people arrested thus far have nothing to do with Antifa or BLM. They are Trump supporters that believe he was robbed and threw their common sense down the toilet.

        Horrific that an adult would buy into the “hereistheevidence” site. Truly. I honestly do not mean my remarks rudely. I just have such issues believing that any adult that thinks critically could believe such nonsense. I hope that you will study the findings of learned scholars on both sides of the political spectrum and revisit your position.

        • And another,

          Well, now that you’ve declared that the elections wasn’t stolen, I’m a believer. Far be it from me to read the detailed affidavits and citations at https://hereistheevidence.com/ when I could have just taken your word for it. How horrific is it that the evidence in that database is a summary of evidence already heard by various commissions and still pending before courts?

          And BLM absolutely was involved. John Sullivan, a well known BLM operative, was at the focal point of the action inside the Capitol. You must be taking the word of the BLM spokesperson who is trying to distance her terrorist movement from Sullivan.

          • Of all the characters and criminals involved in the Trump insurrection, you blame one black man, John Sullivan.
            Obviously the blame game remains the same, in-friggin-credible!

  • What both cf’s (Celeste and the other jackass) don’t mention is that this means the probation department isn’t going anywhere. Police aren’t going anywhere either, “defund the police” remember that? Ended with congresspeople cowering under their desks. Actually it ended before that, but now it’s good and dead.

    What’s left is the bureaucratic noise, bullshit like “homelike environments” and whatever new age nonsense they come up with to keep the status quo going. Which, believe it or not, is probably the solution that will cause the least amount of damage in the long run.

  • Dope of Reality- I was curious whether you were just a racist cop or a racist and crazy cop so I took a look at the link you attached. OMG! You are seriously ill. Do you believe that Hillary is part of child pedophile ring? As part of your evidence there are links to articles by crazy republicans saying they know the election was stolen. This is not evidence. There are emails from crazy men and women who, again, claim the election was stolen. That is not evidence. If I say you are an idiot, that is not evidence but my opinion. Although that may be more likely than that the election was stolen, but it is still not evidence. Trump lost. Accept it. Stacy Abrams gave the racist Republicans a serious dose of ass-whuppin.’ She worked harder and smarter, and paid the republicans back. Accept it and move on. Yes, a black woman is responsible for the racists losing in the South. Can you believe that?

    Madame Kong, it is very unbecoming an officer to call a lady a jackass. I understand you calling me one, but Celeste? Remember, it is her site. She gives your life meaning. With Parler now gone and Twitter blocking racist comments, where else can you go to express your views. And, as I previously explained to you, I am in it for the long run. The LAPD lost $150M. Albeit a small amount, but a week before the Council took it they had approved the LAPD budget. That was a political slap in the face. When had that happened in the past. And, all because a bunch of kids, especially white ones, took to the streets, and they called you pig while they were at it. And now, the LAPD is facing layoffs. Even in the worst of times, the council was afraid to touch the LAPD and now they are demanding the LAPD share the pain. The times they are a changin’

    • Cf you aren’t in it for the long run, like the rest of us you’re just a spectator, you’re not even close to the track, just a little man with a grudge. As George Carlin said, the ruling class is a club, and you ain’t in it.

      Little weasels like you can make a lot of noise but when it comes right down to it people will always demand cops. Your type doesn’t exactly instill confidence when the chips are down and things get scary. Which is why you could never get the full time deputy position, just a reserve so someone would always be there to take care of you, Greg.

    • Childish Fool,

      Your accusatory ramblings are nothing short of delusional and projectionist. Mentioning Stacey Abrams in a positive light is inaccurate and disgusting. Beyond that, your post, as usual, offers nothing.

  • Madame Kong-
    You talk a lot but you aint said nothing. Of course, we demand cops. Every society, as long as human nature is what it is, needs police. I doubt murder and theft will disappear in my lifetime, or ever. The issue is not whether we need police, but what police, how many and how do they their jobs, what we expect from them and when do we terminate them. Those are the issues, my portly friend. And, I may need them sometime, and if I do, I will call them. My taxes pay their salaries and I expect them to come. What I do not expect is for them to be overweight, rude and racist. And, I expect them to work for more than 25-30 years before they retire on my dime. Now, if you were your own boss with your own business, I could call you and you could deny me service. That would be your right. But, if you are on the public dime, you do your job when you are told to do it and how you are told to do it.

    And, you are correct. I am nowhere near the ruling class, never will be. I am just one of thousands who was out in the streets telling Garcetti to cut your funds, to reign in the rogue cops and fire the ones that abuse their power and lie on the stand. Just one of thousands who keep an eye on you when you stop someone. Just one of thousands. Basically, a man of the people.

    BTW, Madame Kong, do you subscribe to the conspiracy theories of the Dopes of Reality in the force? Or, are they an embarrassment to you?

    Dope of reality, did I touch a nerve?. You cannot possibly have anything negative to say about Stacy Abrams. Why don’t you share your thoughts? Do they include the N-word?

    Ladies, let us move on to the next post. Still hoping I see you on TV as one of the ladies storming of the Capitol.

    • Hey little guy (cf, real name Greg) for someone who wants to identify with the far lefties, you sure lay it on pretty thick with the libertarian rhetoric ( muh taxes!) not exactly a blm talking point. But at least your last post wasn’t as bad as some of your others.

      Of course it’s all a smoke screen isn’t it Greg? This is just about you getting back at the guys who would never let you in their group and you’re hurt. Your homework is to meditate on this, and find a more constructive outlet for your rage. Until then you’re dismissed, try to do better in the future.

    • I’ll bet you’ve said the “N” word more than every poster here. In fact, that’s adding every posters use of it together. It’s ok keep pretending like you do in all your posts, like it matters.

  • Here’s One,

    I blame every person, regardless of their individual motivations, who entered the Capitol. I don’t care if they just peacefully stood there after some of the Capitol police officers opened the doors for them, or if they broke windows and stormed in. I blame them all. Stand outside and make speeches, wave the flag, shout, let ’em know you’re pissed off. Then go home after cleaning up every scrap of paper on the ground you may have left. That’s the kind of protest that should’ve happened.

    I’m a staunch Trump supporter, but I would never have participated in the melee that happened. I spent a career gathering and analyzing evidence, which makes it pretty easy for me to see that the election was stolen. It was a multi-pronged attack that will be proven to everybody’s satisfaction in time. Well, maybe not ultra libs, but people with critical thinking skills. I’m pissed off, but I know the limitations of what I can and can’t do about it.

    Anyway, John Sullivan is a trained BLM operative who knows how to rev up his targets. Don’t take my word for it – take his, unless youtube has already scrubbed his past videos. He was at the focal point where Babbitt was shot while the crowd screamed, “tear it down” (referring to the barricade that the Capitol police put up in front of the doors with the broken window Babbitt was climbing through).

    Others will be identified, like that idiot actor who calls himself the “QAnon Shaman.” I’ve worked enough protests to know that every group has infiltrators that are aligned against the group, infiltrators who are just media attention whores, and infiltrators who are completely nuts. There is no such thing as a homogenous protest group that can be completely controlled or directed by the protest leadership. Everybody who crossed the line needs to be prosecuted. But just being there to express opinions is what our 1st Amendment is all about.

  • So what if John Sullivan was there? Probably all sorts of nuts were there. If John Sullivan acted out, he should be arrested too but he’s one person. There were surely UC cops in the crowd too. Who cares? The bulk of the people there were Trump supporters. He’d been urging them to “stand by” and then lit the fuse. There is no excuse for his actions and utter failure as this debacle occurred.

    Speaking of people that are staunch Trump supporters, the only question that remains at this point would be, why? Here’s some of his highlights – personal and professional – and this is a tiny list:

    Repeatedly has refused to pay for services provided – from contractors to attorneys. Prestigious law firms refuse to represent him and most banks won’t do business with him.
    Pays off women he had extra-marital affairs with to keep them quiet during an election.
    Settled (along with his Father) multiple allegations of housing discrimination.
    Name calls other world leaders like a five year old child.
    Failed to properly handle the Charlottesville protest.
    Failed to properly handle the siege on the Capitol and in fact, inflamed the the entire situation resulting in terror and death.
    Fomented violence even prior to his election during his rallies – urged police violence toward anti-Trump protesters.
    Misused money collected by his own Foundation for personal gain – sports paraphernalia, champagne, a painting of himself – versus giving the donations to charity. Court imposed a huge fine and it was closed.
    Lied about and has failed to properly handle the Covid virus.
    Failed to take Russian threats to this nation seriously – whether hacking or other.
    Hired only the best people but an unprecedented number of these unqualified idiots have been indicted/jailed.
    Lied when the truth would help.
    Repeatedly refers (as does his fav attorney Giuliani) to “the truth” coming out any day now (pick the issue) but you know what…it never does because they have no truth. They have no evidence. They just make up whatever truth works best for them and saunter forth knowing that a huge number of people will follow them right over the cliff.

    After four years, this country is a divided angry place with citizens that should know better acting like they are living in a squalid dictatorship at the behest of their leader. Progress? I think not.

  • Forgive the typos above.

    I’m so glad you now realize Dose of Reality that there was no election fraud. Sarcasm aside, you know as well as I do from working in government service, that the fastest way to have information spread far and wide is to tell an employee something in confidence. With that in mind, do you honestly believe that if fraud occurred that there would not be people blabbing far and wide? Showing proof to women at bars, selling their stories, meeting with members of the press, etc.?

    Do you think that the poll observers from both sides would not be begging to testify?

    Do you think that all the courts in multiple states with judges appointed by both parties would have tossed these cases if there was anything substantial there?

    Face it. Your guy lost – fair and square. He set up the election fraud excuse months prior – listen to his speeches.

    Now I wasn’t happy when he won but rather than support some ludicrous fraudulent election theory, I accepted the will of the majority and went on with life. That’s how our system is supposed to work. It’s time for Republicans to do the same.

    • Not one single judge to date has heard any evidence. Reading pleadings is not the same. Too bad you aren’t willing to actually delve into the issues.

  • During my 25 year journey from GSN to Director with L.A. County Probation, my number one complaint was infrastructure. The Dickensian environment of the hall reflects the BOS’s lack of care for County detained youth. There isn’t much about those halls that doesn’t shout “PRISON.” One of the training tools back in the day included putting new staff in the role of detainee, and structuring their day accordingly. Once a new staff member was placed alone in a “room”, the number one thing many of them reflected upon later was the uglyl feeling being “inside.” Over the years, I worked with many dedicated staff members who went into their pockets to lighten the atmosphere with all manner of decorations, especially at seasonal holidays. In the end, the grim surroundings, dilapidated plumbing and climate control and poor housekeeping methods will not be overcome by hiring practices. Start with creating an environment that aids and empowers youth. The BOS needs to start all over. Remember the plan to rebuild Central, yeah….way back when!

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