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.
For almost 2 weeks now since his hiring was outed by the media, this CEO email was the very first announcement/introduction of any kind about Mr. Viera Rosa to Probation employees. There still has been no communication from Chief Fletcher about the man to line staff despite her knowing he was coming and him wandering around Probation HQ since the middle of last week. We also have not heard from Mr. Viera Rosa himself to date. Seeing now that that he is of equal footing with Chief Fletcher, it is telling that his introduction did not come from her.
I hope that you and your readers noticed that there was no mention at all of Mr. Viera Rosa throughout the entire 6hr long BSCC hearing where Supervisor Hahn, CEO Davenport, Chief Fletcher, and other Probation executives all spoke. Surely it should have been mentioned that Mr. Viera Rosa was going to oversee these new corrective plans and not Chief Fletcher right? Surely one of the BSCC board members should have asked about his role seeing that he was a colleague just the week prior right? But no, they made no mention of him whatsoever either. There is some funny business going on for sure.
So will the “reorganization” help?? Probably not. In the eyes of employees, Mr. Viera Rosa is no different from Chief Fletcher or Chief Gonzalez or the other Chiefs that the Supervisors pushed on us before him. History tells us that he will be micro-managed and supported only enough to allow for the County’s re-imagined vision of juvenile justice. That vision, as we all know, doesn’t really include Probation.
For 3+ years now field Deputy Probation Officers (DPOs) have been forced to work juvenile halls and camps 2-3x per week while still covering their community-based caseloads at the same time. This has all been in service to even longer suffering Detention Services Officers (DSOs) who have consistently been plagued with shortages due to injury, fatigue, burnout, etc. These days both classifications are being held over and forced to work 20+ hour days without proper safety protocols in place to protect them from the more dangerous young adults. The field DPOs I mentioned earlier are now being temporarily reassigned to work as “full time” DSOs (a demotion, in effect) in juvenile hall. Those reassignments have all been arbitrary and against the will of those employees who fairly and rightly took promotions to work in their field assignments. To add insult to injury, both classifications have been working without a fair labor contract for some time now. While our union has kept us in the loop as best they can, we employees rarely know what is going on internally because our management simply does not communicate with us regularly about anything. Yet, the rumor mill says that more drastic, high impact changes are still to come. It is all just exhausting.
Though you want to decrease Probation’s footprint Supervisors, we are still your employees and we do not deserve the openly hostile behavior you and your managers have toward us.
Thank you for including me in your article. However, I wish when you quote me, you quote my entire letter to the chief and my fellow colleagues. Snippets don’t give your audience a clear picture of my thoughts and concerns. So for your audience I have attached it.
Good Afternoon Ms. Fletcher and fellow staff,
I have been sitting here at my desk saddened by the state of the affairs our department is in. I personally transferred in from DCFS back in 1998, naively thinking that I was leaving one mismanaged department to one that was more promising. Hoping against hope that this transfer would bring more positive outcome for the youths and families in our care. However, what I have come to realize is that both DCFS and Probation are the “whipping boys” of the county, the Board of Supervisors and their stakeholders. We are the necessary evils of the county and stakeholders that loves to hate on our departments.
If there are failures in these departments it is not solely the fault of those departments. It is placed squarely on the shoulders of the Board of Supervisors who have had the sole power and authority to hire and fire the chiefs. If the BOS cannot find competent leadership for more than a two year stint then there is no message to the rank and file on the direction of their departments. More importantly, the BOS has become an extremely political body who bows to the latest pressures instead of looking toward the health and well being of the youth and families that it serves leaving those constituents to become lost in a system more concerned with the politics of Los Angeles County.
While I may not have liked how Ms. Fletcher has had to handle this dire situation, she was forced into this position due to the failure of the BOS. I do not excuse her not sharing and being honest to her rank and file, but again, she must adhere to the BOS, they are her boss and they can fire her. (Just as they have shown over the last two decades of other Probation Chiefs that have not towed their line).
So as to Probation. To receive this email stating that we are now going to get stab vests. That’s good news, but too little too late. And if you know the details of the stabbing, the SDSO was stabbed in the neck and face, so a stab vest would have done nothing to minimize the injuries he sustained. And while I applaud that there are steps being taken to assist our staff in the institutions, the real issues are not being addressed at all.
Staffing in the halls is at an all time low due to staff being out due to injuries sustained while doing their job. It is not because they are lazy and stay home eating bon bons watching Jerry Springer. Hiring was stopped and not authorized for a long period of time which also created these low staffing levels. Also, the new hires that have gone through training and come to work excited and motivated only to be assaulted and threatened by the youth in their care causes a high attrition rate. These new hires come into the hall and realize they did not sign up for this. They would rather quit than be assaulted, threatened, and investigated if they defend themselves against these assaults.
The major concern I have heard from fellow staff is that the minors have not been held accountable for their behaviors. For example, this past Easter, there was a riot in Unit X. The minors tore up the unit. And yet, a few hours later, they were served pizza and hot dogs. And we wonder why these minor’s do not respect the staff? Its basic parenting skills. If we feed their poor behavior there is nothing to motivate them to improve their behavior. How can we expect more from our youth if the expectations are nil?
There is a perception by the stakeholders that has the ear of the BOS that the minors are victims. And yes, some are. They have suffered at the hands of their families and endured situations that no one should go through. Absolutely. Unfortunately, these same minors that are currently in custody are not there for any low level crimes. They are our most violent offenders. Murder, rape, robbery, carjacking, assaults, etc. And while I understand that some youth are traumatized, there is no excuse for their behaviors while in custody. There are many adults who have gone through tragedies and have not resorted to commit heinous crimes. We can work and help and empathize but we cannot be made victims by these youths. And there are risks in working with our kids. We understand that. We came into this job to help. But the pendulum has swung so far left that people who came into this field to help are now being made into victims.
Our staff never deluded itself into thinking that there would not be difficult days. We know this. Hell a lot of the staff have gone through situations not unlike the youth they serve. That is why this has become their calling! However, we did not know that the tools to work with youth would be severely limited or removed for use. Taking away pepper spray, handcuffs and time outs is only escalating the volatility in the halls with these youth. Some minor’s know that any incidents (true or false) they report against staff will place staff out on leave while a lengthy investigation occurs. Staff are found guilty prior to a fact finding investigation. Not all, but too many are left in limbo while awaiting the outcome of that investigation.
SB823 came into effect in 2020. This state legislation changed where minors would be rehabilitated. Instead of at the state level, these minors needed to be serviced with quality programming at the local level. And while I believe this is the best practice for these youth to have family close by, the ball was dropped. Not by Probation, but by the BOS. The state provided funding yet we are no closer to a facility operating with quality programming to ensure the success of these youth. The BOS has known that these changes needed to happen and there was a deadline given.
6-30-23. It has been three years and where is the new SYTF? At BJN juvenile hall! Campus Kilpatrick is also being used as it is the “LAs Best Model” for these youth. So why are there only 10-15 minor’s at this facility? Because it is not safe. This is the reason the youth remain at BJN juvenile hall with NO quality programming. Jailhouse guitar, drumming and poetry are NOT quality programming. Where are the vocational programs? Where is the quality counseling (anger management, substance abuse, domestic violence psychiatric) to address these youths specific needs? NO WHERE! NONE to be found. All we hear are “we are working on it.” Three years later?
With SB823 the definition of juvenile probation was changed. We no longer serve minor’s 18 and under. We now serve youth that are up to the age of 25. These are grown adults. The message conveyed to us has been that these youth have brains that are not fully developed until age 25. And I’m sure science has proven this. Old school would have called that “lacking maturity and experience.” But to use this as an excuse for these youth to be kept with children 18 and under is abominable. The influence and effects to mix these youth in the same facilities is reprehensible. And yet here we are. We have adults in our facilities. If these youth had committed these crimes at age 18 or older, they would NOT be here in juvenile hall. They would be in county jail where they should be. If these adults can smoke, sign up to vote or enlist in the military and buy a gun, then how can we say they are not responsible for their actions?
The next tragedy set to happen is the 170 youth returning from DJJ by the end of June 2023. If we are struggling now, imagine what will transpire when all returnees are here? More staff is needed, yes. But without quality rehabilitative services there youth will not do well here (or anywhere) and ultimately it will be taken out on our staff.
It’s a shame that staff has to learn through the grapevine of the assaults against fellow staff. It’s a shame that our management has not been forthright in what is occurring in our department. There has been no transparency. There has been no support for Probation employees. Had this occurred in an office setting, this would have been called a hostile work environment. Instead this is just called a day in the life of a Probation employee. And in all of this where is our Union? Many of us feel that our department and our union are in cahoots. True or not, the appearance of being in bed with each other has not been disproven.
All can I say to both the Union and the Probation Department is, where is media relations? All I ever read about is the Los Angeles Times bashing negativity of all the failures of our staff. Neither the department nor our Union stand up and speak in any positive form regarding the hard working employees who show up for work on a daily basis. Morale in our department is at an all time low.
For anyone who wishes, please feel free to share this email with our rank and file.
Shirley Martin Kirkman
Shirley, thank you so much for commenting, and for including your full letter in the comment. There’s so much of value in it. And, because of your comment, now readers have the opportunity of reading the many important points you made.
Shirley is braver than the rest of us combined. She has spoken 100% truth.
This dude must be someone’s son, brother or cousin. What a waste of tax payer $.