On Wednesday, April 19, Los Angeles County CEO, Fesia Davenport officially notified all those who work for the nation’s largest probation department that Guillermo Viera Rosa is now on the job as the department’s “Chief Strategist for Juvenile Operations.”
As WitnessLA reported earlier in the month, Viera Rosa was hired for this new job—a position that was previously non-existent—with the hope that he can bring the department’s Juvenile Services branch into compliance with the California DOJ’s consent decree, and also into compliance with the legal boundaries overseen by the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC).
Wrestling LA County’s two main youth lock-ups, Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall and Central Juvenile Hall, into BSCC compliance in order to keep the state oversight board from declaring the two facilities “unsuitable for youth habitation,” is the largest of the two priorities.
Furthermore, to accomplish any of the necessary changes, somebody in a position of authority has to manage to stabilize youth probation’s staffing situation, which is, at present, in a state of catastrophe. And all of the so-called solutions to that problem have turned out to be mostly smoke and mirrors.
Huge percentages of the staff are still “calling out,” for one reason or another. This means that those staff members who do come to work often find themselves having to remain on duty for 20 hour shifts, or in some cases far longer than 20 hours, a situation that is neither fair nor safe.
And without enough staff, youth don’t have programming, or school, or recreation, a situation that doesn’t play out well for anybody.
So, enter Guillermo Viera Rosa who, as the CEO noted, has “over 27 years of experience working in the field of corrections
Most recently he was the director of the Division of Adult Parole Operations for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).
It is interesting to note that, according to the ORG chart that CEO Davenport sent with Wednesday’s letter, Viera Rosa will report directly only to the board of supervisors, not to Karen Fletcher who took over as interim Chief after the board fired former Probation Chief Adolfo Gonzales in early March.
Now, interim Chief Fletcher will oversee other sections of the department, such internal affairs, and the administrative side of probation. In other words, it does not appear she will be working on the youth side of the agency at all.
Below Viera Rosa on the chart is an (acting) Chief Deputy for the juvenile side of things named Felicia Cotton. Cotton has been with the department for more than 35 years, and was originally selected for the Chief Deputy position by Fletcher.
It is a colossal understatement to say that Viera Rosa comes to his newly created position at a challenging time.
During last week’s BSCC meeting, a long list of members of the department, along with an equally long list of youth advocates and others, called to express in painful detail their fury and frustration about the appalling state of the youth halls.
For example, one longtime staff member working at Barry J Nidorf said that “a big percentage” of the doors to the rooms where the youth live don’t latch.
“So kids can get out at will to assault another kid,” he said.
(WitnessLA is working on a story about a case where a kid was reportedly sent to the hospital three different times because of beatdowns made possible by such faulty latches.)
According to Allison Ganter, the BSCC’s Deputy Director of Facilities Standards and Operations, in many of the units youth are regularly confined to their rooms at night where they have to urinate with no access to a toilet.
There is also reportedly not enough staff for family visits a great deal of the time.
A defense attorney named Jared Gunsberg told of one of his clients who has gone five weeks with no family visits because of the staff shortage.
“It feels like punishment,” said another speaker, referring to the frequent no-family-visit problem
Several speakers talked about the absence of support for staff members who are working in these impossible conditions. The need for some kind wellness program was mentioned, along with the need for a general peer support system.
Then there was the fact that on Monday night, April 10, a Supervising Detention Service Officer was stabbed badly in the face and neck at Barry J, by a kid who’d already stabbed a kid earlier this year, both potentially deadly incidents that have shaken everyone.
In a letter dated April 12, that WLA has obtained, one veteran staff member who has been working with probation’s youth since 1998, wrote to Karen Fletcher to say that while it was good that the department would be issuing stab vests to staff in the halls now, it was not exactly reassuring.
“It’s a shame,” she wrote,” that staff had to hear through the grapevine of the assaults against fellow staff.”
The next “tragedy” set to happen, the staff member continued, “is the 170 youth returning from DJJ at the end of June of this year when DJJ closes. More staff is needed, yes,” she said. “But without quality rehabilitative services there these youth will not do well here (or anywhere else). And ultimately it will be taken out on our staff.”
Echoing those who spoke at the BSCC meeting, the veteran staff member wrote of the critical lack of support for probation employees.
“Had this occurred in an office setting, this would have been called a hostile work environment.
“Instead it is just called a day at work for probation employees.”
And so Guillermo Viera Rosa.
If it turns out he has both the skill and the will to make a difference, there is the additional question of whether or not his five bosses on the LA County Board of Supervisors will actually give Mr. Viera Rosa the support he needs to do so.
More as we know it.