Last night, Monday night, just after 5 p.m., Karen Fletcher, the Interim Chief of LA County Probation, resigned from her position as head of the nation’s largest probation system.
Her last day on the job will be on May 19, Fletcher wrote in her letter to probation staff members.
Sources tell us that the triggering fact for the Interim Chief was the news that the person she had tapped as her second-in-command for youth probation was being moved out of the youth side of the agency, and over to the adult side of the department.
Prior to her resignation, Fletcher had been on the job as Interim Chief for just under two months. She was selected for the position by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors immediately after the board fired former Probation Chief Adolfo Gonzales on Tuesday, March 7, “effective immediately.”
Some wondered at the board’s choice. Former Chief Adolfo Gonzales was an experienced and well-liked reformer, but things went from bad to worse under his tenure.
“And so they hired his second in command, who was running things under him?” said one of WitnessLA’s veteran department sources.
Since March, conditions in the county’s two youth lock-ups, Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall and Central Juvenile Hall, have continued to be less and less safe—for kids, and also for staff.
Although Fletcher and her second in command on the youth side, Felicia Cotton, promised changes, the problems to solve were large and many, and improvements were hard to find under their tenure.
The collective states of mind of staff, youth, and youth advocates were further shaken on Monday night, April 10, when a Supervising Detention Service Officer was stabbed badly in the face and neck at Barry J (as the Sylmar institution is known for short). The person wielding the shank was a 17-year-old who’d already stabbed a kid in the same facility earlier in the year, with both of the stabbings potentially deadly incidents.
Yet, on April 4, just slightly a week before the stabbing, something genuinely unexpected occurred when the county took the unusual step of hiring Guillermo Viera Rosa as “Chief Strategist for Juvenile Operations” for the Los Angeles County Probation Department.
The position had never previously existed, and Viera Rosa came from outside probation. His background includes over 27 years of experience working in the field of corrections and rehabilitation. He also has experience on the youth side of things, and reportedly has a reputation for being smart and unafraid of challenges.
On April 19, Los Angeles County CEO, Fesia Davenport officially notified probation staff that Viera Rosa was now on the job.
Significantly, as indicated by the org chart the CEO sent with her announcement, it was made clear that Viera Rosa would report directly only to the board of supervisors, not to Interim Chief Karen Fletcher.
Instead, Fletcher was to oversee other sections of the department, such as internal affairs, and the administrative side of probation. In other words, it appeared she was not working on the youth side of the agency at all.
However, directly below Viera Rosa on the CEO’s org chart was Felicia Cotton, interim Chief Fletcher’s number two.
Reportedly, Cotton has also now been moved to the adult side of the agency, presumably at Viera Rosa’s direction.
And Fletcher is gone altogether.
We have heard from several sources that the board is likely to offer Viera Rosa the position of interim Chief of Probation—that is, if he will take the job.
A new, high ticket plan & reserve LA County Sheriff’s deputies
In the meantime, the five LA County Supervisors voted on Tuesday afternoon to accept a 10-page proposal from CEO Davenport, which outlines a plan for the county to reopen probation’s third youth hall, the now-closed Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall (LP), and then repurpose all three youth halls at a cost of $28,802,000.
“This will not increase probation’s footprint or frustrate the transition to Youth Justice Reimagined,” wrote the CEO.
“Probation’s plan will better leverage existing facilities and available staff and resources to improve conditions and care for Probation youth, while flexing up temporary staff and other resources to stabilize conditions in the juvenile halls.”
Several youth advocates we spoke with on Tuesday were not at all upbeat on the topic of the CEO’s proposal.
“Thirty million to continue what we’ve always done,” said Julio Marcial, his tone grim. Marcial is a well known youth justice expert and Senior vice President of Programs for the Liberty Hill Foundation.
As for the plan itself, in this “leveraging” of facilities, Los Padrinos will house pre-disposition youth—meaning kids who are charged with something but who have not had a “disposition” hearing, which is akin to a sentencing hearing in adult court. According to the proposal, there are at present about 275 pre-disposition youth who will be housed at LP.
Under the new strategy, the county’s staggeringly troubled Barry J Nidorf Juvenile Hall is to become the facility that will house the youth who previously would have gone to the state’s soon-to-be shuttered Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). These are the young people now known as Secure Youth Treatment Facility (SYTF) youth.
(A few of the SYTF kids are now at Campus Kilpatrick, but they are not not mentioned in the new plan.)
The last of the three facilities, Central Juvenile Hall, is to be designated under the CEO’s plan as “a law enforcement intake unit and medical and diagnostic/assessment hub.”
This new game of musical chairs with the kids in LA County’s care is presumably being proposed—at least in part—in the hope of getting the California Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC), off the county’s case.
As WLA has reported previously, if Los Angeles County Probation cannot bring its two still operating youth lock-ups into compliance with a list of state mandated rules, inside a certain designated period, the BSCC will have no choice but to declare the two youth halls,“unsuitable for youth habitation.”
In other words, Central Juvenile Hall and Barry J Nidorf would be deemed unsafe places for kids to be live in at all. Period, full stop.
If that occurs, the county would have 60 additional days to move nearly all the kids in residence at the two facilities somewhere else.
Weirdly, though, even if Barry J is deemed “unsuitable,” the SYTF youth will be able to remain in the Sylmar facility, because the BSCC doesn’t have legal jurisdiction over former DJJ youth.
In other words, if the SYTF youth stay at Barry J Nidorf Juvenile Hall, it will not necessarily be because the place has gotten any safer, with it’s non-latching cell doors, et al, which have reportedly allowed kids to jump other kids in their cells.
It’s just that the state oversight board is not legally able to hold probation’s feet to the fire on the matter of the SYTF population.
There’s a lot more to the plan, which you can read here.
Meanwhile, the two existing youth halls are still dismally short on staff.
To temporarily lessen this ongoing problem, the proposal recommends that probation ask the LA County Sheriff’s Department to “redeploy a select number of reserve officers to the juvenile halls to help stabilize the staffing levels in the facilities.”
This potential use of LASD reserve deputies—most one presumes who have no experience in the world of youth justice—has caused concern in some quarters.
More as we know it. So….watch this space.