How the failure to apply the state’s legal guidelines has resulted in unnecessary detentions in the county’s unsafe youth lock-ups

Eduardo Mundo
Written by Eduardo Mundo

For those who are unfamiliar, The California Welfare and Institutions Code (WIC) is one of 29 Codes that contain state statutes.  The following section of WIC sets the tone for the youth justice system in the state:

WIC 203:  An order adjudging a minor to be a ward of the juvenile court shall not be deemed a conviction of a crime for any purpose, nor shall a proceeding in the juvenile court be deemed a criminal proceeding.

 If WIC 203 is the legal guideline for the state’s youth justice system, why are so many youth in the County of Los Angeles detained in one of the county’s juvenile halls pending disposition?

Currently, 243 out of 379 (64%) of the youth in detention in Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall and Central Juvenile Hall are pending adjudication of their cases.  The length of their detentions range from 48 hours to more than 700 days.

This fact is incongruent with the spirit of the WIC and the County’s Youth Justice Reimagined effort. 

You’re either appalled by these numbers, or you’re suppressing the urge to blurt that many of these youth are detained because they have been charged with serious offenses.

The fact is none of the 243 youth have “sustained” petitions, only allegations.  

The legal system provides that one is innocent until proven guilty. Unlike the adult system where your ability to bail out of incarceration is primarily guided by a bail scale, the prevailing principle in the juvenile justice process is whether or not you’re a continued risk to yourself or others.  The irony here is that if the juvenile court was deemed a criminal proceeding, many of the 243 youth would have the opportunity to be released on bail.

Reducing LA’s juvenile hall population is a critical step to addressing the crisis currently gripping the county’s effort to provide safe and secure settings for both detained youth and the staff who are charged with their care. 

 This reduction cannot be accomplished by probation without partnership with the key players in the juvenile court: the Public Defender,  the LA District Attorney, and the judges.  Most importantly, it also cannot be done without the inclusion of the county’s Department of Youth Development (DYD)—launched in the summer of last year—and its various community partners.

The effort should begin with the Public Defender’s office identifying youth eligible for release consideration and forwarding those names to probation for the completion of an updated intake detention report.  

These are thoughtful reports and recommendations that address areas of concern, such as home environment, substance use, and other arenas of potential risk.  In making a recommendation for release, probation informs the court that the young person warranting release has agreed to participate with a DYD partner who has reached out to the youth’s family and initiated diversion services.  The DA then reviews the report and either accepts the recommendation or does not.  

If mutual agreement is secured, the youth and the report are presented to the judge.  Unless the judge finds cause for continued detention, the youth should be immediately released to the supervision of a designated Deputy Probation Officer who is partnered with the identified Department of  Youth Development service provider.

Essential to the effort is a thorough examination of data at every decision point.  This level of transparency is required to identify which agency hinders the release of a young person. 

As part of the county’s Re-Imagine effort, the District Attorney is currently diverting juvenile felony cases to DYD without complete assessments or probation intervention. Is this any more risky than an adult bail out? No, this is the principle of innocent until proven guilty playing out. 

In launching the Youth Justice Re-Imagine initiative, the LA County Board of Supervisors put into motion a plan that squares with the Welfare Institution Code and distinguishes the youth justice system from the adult criminal process.  

It is time for county agencies, primarily the District Attorney and the Public Defender, to step up and push the effort forward.  The crisis in Barry J. Nidorf and Central Juvenile Hall should not be allowed to fester anymore.  

Reducing the population of the halls is the first and most crucial step that the supervisors, oversight bodies, and all county agencies implicated in the juvenile system, should ensure is taken immediately!

It’s unconscionable that we’re detaining kids for this long—pending disposition—in juvenile facilities that are completely unsafe for anyone.

Eduardo Mundo was a probation officer for the Los Angeles County Probation Department for 30 years before retiring in 2018. He is now a member of the LA County Probation Oversight Commission.

We’re happy to announce this is the first of a new regular column by Mundo for WitnessLA. So, stay tuned!


  • I agree in part and disagree in part. The courts play the HUGEST role in detention. However, the POC and BoS refuse to invite the court officials to the conversation. The judges have complete dominion and control over how long a youth is detained. The offices of The court regularly allow for continuance after continuance, which does nothing but prolong the detention, which acts in accordance with the reported 64%. My guess: since judges have immunity, the POC and BoS turn a blind eye to reality. Instead, Probation becomes an easy target. Probation Officers already have amazing relationships with CBOs who beleive more in helping kids, rather than just reaching their hands out for fiscal gain. I have not seen any presented statistics that support the success of the DYD. My million dollar question is: “Why would you pay an entity MORE to do LESS than what Probation is already doing? The step by step assessments would paint the real picture and provide a stepping stone to identifying where the corrective action is needed. However, this is only if it is done with an equitable and neautral-based approach. I am not sure how likely this can be with certain POC staff being so emotional that she/he cannot even finish a sentence without almost breaking down in tears. Also, ask why are juvenile halls considered to be ‘unsafe’? Courts make the orders of conditions of probation. When the youth violate said conditions, courts set aside their own abilities to enforce and youth then become conditioned to receive that abiding by regulations is optional. What are we teaching? Enforceability does not have to mean stringent sanctions. It could be a mere conversation, at times. But to coat it with invisible paint does not seem to be as productive as possibly planned.

  • To raise youth with no consequences or boundaries is to create chaos and this is exactly what is happening to our probation department today. The problem Mr. Mundo is not the amount of youth in our custody or the amount of staff— the problem is the lack of structure allowed in our facilities.

  • I look forward to your columns. We started off as DPO I’s at Camp Holton and then met again as SDPO’s at Camp Scott. We didn’t always agree over our approach to the job, but I never doubted your sincerity and intelligence. Heck, you may have changed my mind about a few things…

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