As of November 22, 2021, in Los Angeles County Probation’s youth camps and halls are housing 346 incarcerated youth, 35 of whom are females.
To be exact, there are 24 girls and young women in the halls and 11 in the camps.
Of those 35 girls,* how many really need to be in county’s youth lock-ups?
A new motion co-authored by LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis, and Supervisor Janice Hahn, asks that question.
Then the motion answers its own question by directing the county’s Youth Justice Advisory Group’s Youth Development Network, and other related workgroups, in collaboration with applicable LA county departments and community stakeholders, to “provide an initial report” in 90 days that has recommendations for “a specific implementation plan” focusing on the complete decarceration of the girls and young women in the county’s youth camps and halls.”
For those who legally require what is called a “secure-track” setting, such as the girls who are awaiting trial and are adjudicated to some kind of secure-track settings, the motion asks for a “home-like option,” that also fulfills the legal preconditions.
SOME progress made
It is good news that the population in LA County’s youth probation camps and juvenile halls has decreased to less that ten percent of what it was a decade ago, a drop that was further helped by the actions taken by the county during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in order to, whenever possible, keep kids away from the petri dish environment that any kind of carcel setting presents.
The bad news is, as the Solis/Hahn motion points out, the girls and young women still remaining, have a high degree of childhood trauma, and are likely to have been victims and survivors of domestic violence, sexual, physical, and mental abuse. And in some cases the girls have been sex trafficked.
According to a 2021 Children’s Data Network study, most of these girls and young women are also likely to have been involved with the foster care system, before they intersected with the county’s youth justice system.
“Female youth in all racial/ethnic groups were more likely than their male counterparts to have dual system involvement,” the study’s authors wrote in their report, which the Solis/Hahn motion also reference.
The dual involvement specifically is disproportionate in its effect on Black youth, who “were more likely than youth from other racial/ethnic groups to have dual system involvement,” wrote the study’s authors. “Notable gender by race/ethnicity dynamics emerged: 80% of Black females were identified as having dual system involvement compared to 55% of White males.”
With all of the above in mind, as is also true “on the adult side of incarceration,” wrote the supervisors, “the setting and environment of camps and halls are not conducive to healing and thriving.”
Furthermore, the motion noted, “the allegations of staff harming youth, can increase the risk that can exacerbate and trigger existing symptoms of trauma, delaying or inhibiting healing.”
Hard questions about keeping female youth safe
WitnessLA’s own reporting has asked troubling questions on the topic safety of girls and young women in the camps and halls, despite the fact that the majority of youth probation’s staff members are generally caring and appropriate.
The Solis/Hahn motion specifically linked to our July 2021 story, which asked why LA County probation officials had done nothing after allegedly getting repeated reports that a staff member sexually assaulted a teenage girl multiple times.
Then in 2019 we reported that a former resident of Central Juvenile Hall, whom we’ll refer to as IR, filed a civil rights lawsuit that told a disturbing story alleging that, during her 2017 stay at Central, detention officers had repeatedly — and unnecessarily — pepper sprayed the then 15-year-old girl, without allowing her to properly “decontaminate,” the spray from her eyes and body.
Two weeks ago, on Monday, November 15, the county claims board recommended that the board of supervisors settle the lawsuit for $220,000.
We also recently learned that another similar civil rights lawsuit pertaining to yet another alarming pepper spray incident (that we also previously reported). This incident involved a teenage girl who was in residence at the now shuttered Los Padrinos Juvenile hall in 2018, when she was allegedly aggressively pepper sprayed after she says she continued to ask for her migraine medicine, before she would retire to bed.
Now we have learned that this case too is on the LA County Claim Board’s December agenda, and is expected to be settled for another six-figure amount.
The two attorneys, Justin Sterling and Erin Darling, who represented both of the pepper-sprayed teenagers, were also the attorneys in the harrowing case of the girl who was allegedly repeatedly sexually assaulted by her probation officer at one of youth camps, even after she tried to get help from her assigned therapist. That case settled for $1,000,000.
The LA County Board of Supervisors will vote on the motion today, Tuesday. It is expected to pass, but the discussion should be interesting.
We’ll let you know how it goes.
*Editor’s note: For practicality’s sake, both the motion and WLA are using the term “female”, “girls”, or “young women” in talking about this issue because, although the “girls” units may include trans girls and non-binary youth, who are allowed to choose how they identify, LA County Probation’s incarceration process is still binary when it comes to gender identity.
Photo at top of Central Juvenile Hall by WitnessLA