Solitary Youth Justice: Healing Not Punishment

Several Kids Reportedly Kept in Solitary Conditions for Days at LA County’s Largest Juvenile Hall

Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

Did days of solitary confinement replace “Hope” for a group of kids at LA’s largest juvenile hall?

It appears so, according to three Los Angeles County probation commissioners.

On Wednesday, September 27, a trio of commissioners charged with oversight of LA County’s complex probation department visited Central Juvenile Hall, the largest of the county’s three temporary lock-ups for kids. Shortly after they arrived, the threesome encountered a situation that alarmed them.

The commissioners—Jan Levine, Betsy Butler, and Joe Gardner—had come to the facility, which is located slightly north and east of downtown, at the edge of Boyle Heights, to do one of the occasional “inspections” of the county’s various juvenile facilities, which are part of their official duties

According to a memo the commissioners composed after their visit (that WitnessLA obtained), the first stop the three made was at what is known as “The Hope Center,” a set of tiny, spare, concrete cell-like bedrooms surrounding a brightly lit day room, which had replaced the facility’s SHU a little over a year ago, after the LA County Board of supervisors voted to prohibit the use of solitary confinement for the kids in the county’s care, except in circumstances when the safety of the youth or staff was involved, and then only for strictly limited periods.

When the commissioners arrived at the Hope Center, which is situated on an upper floor of a multi-story building on the sprawling and aging juvenile hall campus, according to their report, the unit they saw was very different from the Hope Center that one of the commissioners had seen the previous year.

“I was up there last year when the Hope Center at Central was the…well…the Hope Center, ” said Commissioner Jan Levine, when we spoke later about her recent visit to the unit. “There were all kinds of positive programs going on up there. People were at different tables working with the kids. The furniture was comfortable. When the kids left, they felt better about themselves. They’d accomplished something while they were up there.” But when the threesome went on September 27, all the niceties, she said, were gone.

The Hope Center with new furniture, Central Juvenile Hall, June 2016

The commissioners asked about the change, and were told by one of the supervisors on duty, that a “new policy” had been “rolled out.”

The “new” policy at the aspirationally named Hope Center, the commissioners wrote, “very much appears to be the old, now prohibited practice of solitary confinement. The SHU is back.”

(Probation higher-ups have unequivocally disputed the idea of such a redesignation.)

The SHU—a term generally used to describe tiny bedrooms used for “room confinement,” in both adult and juvenile facilities across the nation—stands for Secure Housing Unit.

According to the commissioners, the supervisor they spoke with told them that the Hope Center was a “cool down zone,” with stays there in the neighborhood of two hours.

“Unfortunately, based on what we heard and saw, many stays far exceed two hours,” the commissioners wrote.

Entrance to LA County Probation’s Central Juvenile Hall, Oct 1, 2017

Alone in a Room for Days

LA County’s Probation Commission was established in 1905 as an advisory body that, at the moment, has 13 members. It was created to “provide a citizen interface between the Department, the community and the Board of Supervisors, ” and generally is comprised of people who are nominated by one of the members of the board of supervisors for their experience in related fields.

In the case of the commissioners who made the Hope Center visit, Jan Levine is a former Superior Court Judge, who now works in various areas of juvenile justice advocacy; Betsy Butler is a former state legislator, and now the executive director of the California Women’s Law Center; Joe Gardner is a 27-year veteran Santa Monica Police officer, now retired, with experience in gang investigation, youth intervention, and issues related to the county’s homeless population.

According to the September 27 report, as the three commissioners listened to the superintendent, a slight boy who was standing at a narrow window belonging one of the small individual rooms, reportedly began knocking on the heavy plastic window pane, trying to get their attention.

The commissioners interviewed the young man, a 16-year-old (whom we will call Reynold to protect his anonymity) who told them that he’d been in the Hope Center since Sunday night.

And now it was Wednesday.

Reynold said he’d not been to school for three days. The commissioners noted he had three well-worn books in his cell, one of which was in Spanish, “which he doesn’t speak,“ they wrote. The boy had been allowed out of his cell into the dayroom to eat, he said, but only by himself.

The staff told the commissioners that Reynold was part of a “black on brown” fight between nine kids, that had occurred Sunday night in the P unit, one of two housing units for what are known as developmentally disabled kids, although many of the kids reportedly hate the designation.

Reynold was part of the group of kids who had started the fight, four of whom were reportedly placed in the Hope Center so they could cool down.

But that had been three days ago. The commissioners did not meet with the other three kids, but found Reynold to be calm and courteous.

One of the unit staff reportedly told commissioner Jan Levine that Reynold had been calm for some time.

“I’ve taken my consequences, done my time. I’m ready to go back to my unit, back to school,” Reynold said.

The only person who could order Reynold and his co-fighters to be returned to their unit, according to what the commissioners were told, was the supervisor on Unit P, where the fight was.

“Reportedly, this individual comes up to the Hope Center and asks staff how [Reynold] is doing,” the commissioners wrote. Yet it wasn’t clear, according to the commissioners, if the supervisor had talked with Reynold in the Hope Center since the day he sent the boy there.

“There doesn’t seem to be any daily tracking of ‘readiness for release back to unit,” they reported.

There was also no indication, the commissioners wrote, that the Unit P supervisor conferred with Department of Mental Health staff regarding the youth, another supposed requirement of the Hope Center. Absent any other staff intervention, the commissioners reported, they learned that Reynold was scheduled to stay at the Hope Center two more days, until Friday, the 29th,

According to the commissioners, one of the other kids involved in the fight had a similar order. But his release date was scheduled Sunday October 1, meaning kid number two was reportedly scheduled to be kept in the Hope Center for slightly over a week, although no one could explain to the commissioners why this length of time in what amounted solitary confinement was needed after a fight in which none of the kids or staff was injured that occurred three days before.

(WitnessLA has with confirmed that the unit P fighters were all examined by a nurse, post-fight, and there were no injuries.)

After the visit by the commissioners and their subsequent report, however, all the remaining kids from Unit P, who had been involved in the Sunday night fight, were suddenly deemed ready to safely go back to their unit sometime on Wednesday, instead of waiting until Friday, or the next Sunday.

“If a minor is in distress, either with concerns about suicide or aggressiveness” against others, Probation Commissioner Joe Gardner told WitnessLA, “the practice has always been to have a deputy probation officer closely monitoring them and assessing them” while they’re in the Hope Center, “and that was clearly not taking place when we were there.”

Moreover, said Commissioner Jan Levine, “we learned from staff” this kind of multi-day stay “wasn’t the first time.”

Another Fight, Another Group of Kids Kept for Days?

It appears, however, that—as Jan Levine suspected, the P unit kids were not the only youth in Central Juvenile Hall who were kept in the Hope Center for multiple days, at the end of September.

On the evening of Wednesday, September 27, the day that the three commissioners made their visit, we spoke with a long-time staff member at Central who confirmed the commissioners’ account of the P unit kids getting stuck in what amounted to SHU conditions in the Hope Center for multiple days without what our source described as the necessary reassessment.

The veteran Detention Service Officer (DSO), who asked not to be named, said around the time of the P unit fight, there was another fight in another unit, which also resulted in kids going to the Hope Center. This 2nd fight reportedly occurred on Thursday, September 21, in what is known as the KL unit, which houses older boys. According to our source, some of the KL fighters were kept in the Hope Center until at least Monday, meaning they were in isolation for four days.

“None of that should have happened,” said our source.

The Superintendent of Central Juvenile Hall, Dalila Alcantara, confirmed that the KL fight had occurred on Thursday night, but was unsure when those probationers had been allowed to return to their units, and regular activities.

“We want to get to the bottom of this,” said Commissioner Gardner, the long-time police officer, of what they had encountered, “because we want to make sure that the minors in the facilities are not being kept in any kind of solitary condition.”

LA County Does Away With Solitary Confinement

Before we go further, it would likely help review a little recent history on the topic LA County probation and solitary confinement for youth.

On Tuesday, May 4, 2016, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed a motion that, as we mentioned earlier, essentially banned the use of solitary confinement for kids in the county’s juvenile detention facilities.

Solitary cell in Camp Kilpatrick, before it was torn down and rebuilt as Campus Kilpatrick.

In “very rare situations when all interventions have been exhausted, a juvenile may be separated from others as a temporary response to behavior that poses a serious or immediate threat of physical harm to any person,” the motion written by Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis stipulated.

“Even in such cases, the placement should be brief, designed as a cool down period and done only in consultation with a mental health professional.”

Probation higher-ups and other county officials were further instructed to create policies, procedures, enforcement mechanisms, and a method for “oversight”—presumably by the Probation Commission—for this new protocol

During the pre-vote commentary period, Supervisor Kuehl explained the importance of the motion by pointing to what multiple studies had shown about the practice of juvenile solitary.

“It doesn’t improve behavior,” Kuehl told the crowd in attendance. “It doesn’t secure public safety. It doesn’t promote rehabilitation. And, indeed, those who have experienced solitary confinement recidivate in higher numbers.”

In addition, said Keuhl, “the Office of Juvenile Justice Prevention found that 50 percent of our young people who commit suicide were in room confinement at the time of their suicide. And more than 60 percent of them had a history of punitive solitary confinement.”

Cal Remington, then the interim chief of the probation department after the previous chief, Jerry Powers was asked to resign, acknowledged that staff training would be extremely important to the success of the new plan.

“The staff have to feel safe,” he said. “I just wanted to mention there are challenges with this. But they’re challenges we’re willing to take on. We’ll get there.”

Remington* also described at length the way the environments in which a young person might be placed for any necessary cool down, would be very different than the cell-like environments that had previously been used.

“We want the situation to be a calming experience,” Remington said. He then described new approaches in furniture, lighting, window treatment, and wall colors, as part of the psychological remodeling that those involved deemed important.

“We want a place where the minor and the staff member can sit down and talk comfortably,” Remington told the supervisors and the audience. “It’s important to change the environment. We are talking about cultural change.”

Remington added that at the Challenger youth camp, the kids had been permitted to vote for a name for the repurposed SHU.

“They want to call it HOPE Center,” he said.

Re-envisioning an LA County Probation Camp SHU

The change was to be accomplished in all the juvenile facilities by the end of September 2016, just slightly over a year ago.

And so it was that, what had once been Central Juvenile Hall’s bleak SHU, was redesigned and reopened as The Hope Center, along with similar Hope Centers in the other two juvenile halls, and in the county’s various juvenile probation camps.

In Central Juvenile Hall, as Jan Levine had described, the new Hope Center featured nice pillows in the individual rooms, and comfortable looking chairs and tables in the day room along with activities and programs kids could engage in while they were there, including behavioral incentive programs (“BMP”) that allowed kids to heave the center with certificates honoring their achievements.

Initially, however, there was confusion among staff about the use of the new non-SHU centers, according to John Tuchek, 1st vice president SEIU 721, the probation supervisors union, when we spoke to him about the general issue. “Rumors were abounding,” he said, that “all the doors from the rooms were being removed” in the new units, allowing for no safely restricted cool off time, which was an understandable cause for genuine concern.

Shortly after the Supervisors’ vote, “an assaultive minor stabbed two staff with makeshift daggers that were fashioned by the minor. It was relayed to the union that they were under orders not to lock up the minor, which became an immediate officer safety issue,” Tuchek wrote in a May 2016 column for the Association of Probation Supervisors Newsletter. In an attempt to quell the rumors, in his essay, Tuchek assured the union members that the supervisors meant no such thing. “Please note,” Tuchek wrote, “as it was related to the Unions that we are not precluded from utilizing the most restrictive action, but we must first make the proper assessment and include Mental Health to justify its use.”

A Trip to Central

When I visited Central Juvenile Hall on Sunday, Oct. 1, at the invitation of Chief Deputy Probation Officer, Sheila Mitchell, she told me that the department had initiated an internal affairs investigation “the minute” they heard about the commissioners’ report.

Both Mitchell and LA County Probation Chief Terri McDonald—who inherited a long list of challenges and problems when McDonald took over the department in January 2017—were plainly dismayed by the commissioners’ report of the long stays by kids in Central’s Hope Center.

“We have been clear that we will not tolerate abuse or indifference,” McDonald replied in an email when I contacted her. They were still gathering facts, she wrote, and needed also to “reevaluate our policies and re-evaluate the training provided to our staff.” But all that had begun “immediately” when they “learned of the allegation.”

McDonald said that the department will “correct any policy or training issues as well as address any employee concerns that we encounter.” This includes “how to ensure the safety and security of the youth and employees, she said.

“We will not backslide and will resolve this issue.”

Sheila Mitchell, McDonald’s second in command, was equally emphatic when I met with her and Dave Mitchell, Chief of the Residential Treatment Services Bureau, plus Dalila Alcantara, who is Central Juvenile Hall’s Superintendent—in other words, the head of the place. None of the three could comment extensively what had seemingly occurred with the P unit kids, as they were waiting for the results of the investigation, they said, but all three expressed genuine concern.

They also explained that due to the highly fluid and, in many cases, high-risk nature of the population in the county’s three juvenile halls—Central in particular—fights were not uncommon. And Sheila Mitchell acknowledged that the juvenile halls would benefit from additional training, which would occur in the month of October.

“We feel we’ve done a really good job in our camps in training our staff in a very different way to de-escalate these situations,” she said, along with “how to deal with aggression, and how to address kids who are highly traumatized.”


And trauma is a big issue. According to a just-released report, Mitchell said, eighty-five percent of the kids in LA County’s juvenile probation system have been involved in the child welfare system, or were investigated at some time. (WLA wrote about that report here.)

Getting back to the matter at hand, Dave Mitchell said that, in the three halls, which fall under Detention Services Bureau or (DSB), the average stay is three hours in the various Hope Centers.

Juvenile Probation Camp Hope Center, redesigned for healing

“But there are occasions when kids’ readiness is assessed, and they may need to stay longer.” And that’s what happened with the kids from P unit fight, Mitchell said.

“But if that happens,” he continued, “we have to justify it and put it on what is called an SSP— a Specialized Supervision Plan.” An SSP is determined in conjunction with someone from the Department of Mental Health, Dave Mitchell said. Moreover, an SSP can only be determined after a kid has already been in the center for four hours.

Even with an SSP, “the kids are supposed to be assessed every two hours,” added Alcantara.

Both Alcantara and Mitchell described a number of examples of when an SSP would be called for regarding a youth’s well being, or the safety of other youth or staff.

But these are the exceptions, they said.

Misuse of the SSP?

So what happened with P unit kids? Were they properly evaluated? Was the requisite representative from the Department of Mental Health (DMH) involved?

And what about the KL kids whom nobody seemed to know about until we brought that matter up? These are the kids who went in on Thursday after a fight, who may have been at the Hope Center even longer than the P unit kids. What about them? How many were there? Were they on an SSP? If so, why? And why so long?

Furthermore, what was done during the multiple days that the various kids spent in the Hope Center to help each boy understand and handle his anger and impulses, and to make better choices next time?

There is nothing whatsoever in the research on troubled kids indicating that simply putting a kid in a tiny room alone with nothing to do for days, without any positive intervention, is a useful strategy. So how many times were the P unit or the KL kids checked on? What did the checking consist of? What was written on the SSPs that called for four-day-long stays—stays which, for one or more boys, could have stretched as long as a week had the commissioners not showed up and started asking questions?

A recently retired Detention Services Officer who worked at Central, and at one time supervised the facility’s SHU, said that, when he was still working at “the hall,” the SSPs were often “used as an excuse” to keep kids in the SHU for longer periods, even though, he said, kids should only be kept “if they are a threat to their own or someone else’s safety.”

The retiree told us that, according to friends he speaks with who are still working at Central, the same reported misuse of the designation is still going on—although the higher-ups likely don’t know about it, he said.

Our source who is still working inside Central told a similar story. The KL kids who had gone in on Thursday, remained over the weekend, our source said, mostly because no one bothered to reassess them, and the staff member who had signed the order for them to stay past four hours “dropped the ball.”

The source believed the situation with the P unit kids had been similar.

California Takes on Solitary Confinement

A little under five months after the LA Supervisors voted to restrict juvenile solitary in the county, the state of California passed its own restrictions on the use of solitary confinement for kids in the form of SB 1143, authored by Senator Mark Leno. On September 27, 2016, Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 1143 into law.

Original Hope Center with comfortable furniture, Central Juvenile Hall, June 2016

The new state regulations that are set to kick in on January 1, 2018, are very similar to the guidelines that the LA County Board of Supes passed in May 2016.

In brief, SB 1143 states the that “room confinement” should not be used for a youth “before other less restrictive options have been attempted and exhausted, unless attempting those options poses a threat to the safety or security of any minor, ward, or staff.” And that room confinement “shall not be used for the purposes of punishment, coercion, convenience, or retaliation by staff.”

A minor may be held for four hours in “room confinement,” but after that he or she had to be returned to general population, or staff should consult with mental health staff and, if there is a reason for the youth to stay longer, staff must create “an individualized plan that includes the goals and objectives to be met in order to reintegrate the minor or ward to general population.” An approval must then be obtained every four hours thereafter that the young person is still kept in room confinement, along with the reasoning behind the decision.

(Here you can read SB 1143 for yourself.)

Chairs, Tables & Cushions

On Sunday, October 1, after the meeting with Chiefs Sheila Mitchell and Dave Mitchell, and Central Juvenile Hall head woman, Dalila Alcantara, we walked over to the Hope Center so I could see the place for myself.

As the commissioners had previously described it, the facility consisted of a rectangle shaped day room that featured a couple of bolted down metal picnic tables, but little else. Small, cell-like rooms lined the walls of the dayroom.

Original Hope Center room with pillows, Central Juvenile Hall, June 2016

Indeed, there was no sign of the comfortable chairs and tables, and cheery certificates that once lined the walls honoring kids achievements, and making the Hope Center a more welcoming place.

I asked a staff member what had happened to the nice furniture, and the colorful pillows that used to be inside the individual room/cells. Now the pillows and any other softening elements were gone.

The staffer said she knew of no furniture or pillows. So where did kids sit when they were allowed to watch television? I asked.

Furniture was going to be ordered in the future, I was told, but she knew of no furniture being removed.

Hope Center room now without pillows, et al, Central Juvenile Hall, Oct. 1, 2017

As it happened, I had previously obtained photos taken at the Hope Center in 2016, back when it still had the pleasant furniture, pillows, and the kids’ achievement certificates. I had the photos on my phone and offered to pass them around to the various officials, who said right away that they wanted to see them.

I passed the phone first to Chief Sheila Mitchell who peered carefully at the photos.

“That is nice furniture,” she said when she looked up. “Where is that furniture now?”

No one seemed to know.

“The building still says Hope Center,” Commissioner Levine told me, “but…it’s changed.”

The Hope Center photo at the top of the story was taken in June 2016, when Central Juvenile Hall’s Hope Center was first created, and decorated with welcoming furniture and other items, many of which have now been removed.


  • The cluelessness demonstrated in this article is truly profound. Celeste, the probation dept. is just humoring you (thank God). If you were to get your way , it would produce much more harm than good. Put your ego aside and realize you’re way out of your element on this. This article demonstrates your lack of knowledge regarding even the most basic realities regarding a custodial environment. Just awful

  • Respectfully, I think people are quick to judge by doing a 4-hour visit. It would really benefit those that are consistently making assumptions and continued criticism to wear a uniform for a week and see how the youth interact with them. It’s always easier to judge when you don’t walk in other people’s shoes. I don’t condone the issues, but there’s always two sides to a story.

  • Much agreed. At least your response is not asinine and accusatory, such as the first comment. Yet these armchair commentors are magical, they talk shit and blow smoke out of their ass at the same time. Amazing.

  • If someone really wanted to hear the “real story” at these facilities they would try and talk to one of the staff members that work directly with kids. It may be difficult though since most county employees have a valid fear of retaliation by their Departments supervisors. If you want to get to the root of an issue or problem you have to do just that, “go deep in the weeds.” However, if you just want to grab headlines, play to the negative perceptions of the public and present a recurring narrative of how bad the County’s agencies (I.e, LASD, LACo Probation, LACo DCFS, etc) you will always go for the low hanging fruit. Regretfully the latter path is the one always be taken by the editor. Try talking to some of the line staff at these agencies if you want your readers to hear the “real truth.”

  • Good luck with talking to line staff who
    works at ANY County facility without them being identified or retaliated against by supervisors or coworkers. Remember James Sexton LASD?


    Dear Factoid and Conspiracy,

    It might help to know that the best sources for this story, and for most stories about Probation, are the men and women who work there, who contact us at great risk to themselves. Most of them work in the camps and halls with kids, and they want things to be better. They are very relieved by the new administration, but they still see people doing the wrong thing and covering it up, with the help of others. I cannot use our sources’ names, obviously. If you read the story you’ll see two unnamed probation people mentioned. One who works in Central now; another is a recent retiree who worked in the hall, with many friends who still work in Central. But for every source I quote, there are others I talk to to try to get the best information possible, whom I do not quote.

    In any case, if you think these stories are primarily based on personal visits, or visits by outsiders, they are not. Those viewpoints are important too, as are the conversations with the various chiefs, and the internal documents we review, but it’s those who work for probation whom we depend on for the truth.


  • I agree with you regarding the anonymity…. as was NOT the case with James Sexton. There is no doubt in my mind that the information (in probation) is authentic. My point was sources being named.
    Thanks for your input.

  • Now that’s an interesting little tidbit we just shook loose. Wonder what staff members are for providing shank material (Celeste’s furniture) and against keeping the violent kids locked away from the potential victim kids. At least it appears probation management has enough sense to give Celeste a polite okey-doke and send her on her way. Guess they don’t want to be responsible for the carnage that would surely follow. Good for them.

  • There is always two sides to these kinds of stories. No doubt there are instances where these kids NEED to be isolated and one would hope they are. There are also probably cases where it is done for disciplinary purposes (i.e. pay-back for being an ass hole). Unfortunately, the latter gets pointed at as being inappropriate and the former starts to get squashed.

    Probation needs to find a better “tiered” system with carrots attached for good behavior. Bad behavior, leads to unfavorable results. After all, that is what they are suppose to be ingraining in these kids – “good behavior” pays off in life.

  • You can throw all the training in the world to these staff members, but at the end of the day, they’re still dealing with some of the most hostile, gang-entrenched, and manipulative young in the country. No amount of training is going to de-escalate gang tension in the units, defiant refusals to follow simple instructions, or the fact that most of these “kids” know the system and how weak the accountability has gotten. There’s no doubt in my mind, based off of my psychological training of deviant behavior and front-line experience working the halls and camps, that Reynold was putting on a show for the “commission” by pulling on their emotional testicals, and appealing to anybody that entertained his sob story.
    Stop with these garbage articles, stop with the “commission” visits, and let probation donits job. Juvenile hall should not be a pleasant place. These “kids” should be discouraged to be there, not enabled and pat on the back.

    Wear my uniform and walk in my boots for one week, then tell me how to do my job…

  • What is your problem with the work the officers do at these Juvenile Halls? You seem to have it out for the probation department. All those criticizing aren’t working behind the walls. It’s easy to pop in and pass judgement on a situation you know NOTHING about. The department is filled with GOOD officers who put their lives on the line daily working with the youth of LA County, yet where are those stories? You claim, “They (juvenile hall staff members) are very relieved by the new administration.” NOT TRUE! I dare you to work juvenile halls amidst the chaos, riots, increase in staff assaults by juveniles, fights, staffing shortages, etc and try to do 1/2 the job of an officer. There are so many positives in CJH and other halls and camps, but your obsession with finding fault, not reporting a factual story has clouded your ability to report fair/accurate information. You are quite biased and we’ve had enough. Juvenile Hall officers do an outstanding job as surrogate parents, counselors, educators, motivational speakers, to many juveniles. There are tons of positive stories out there. Or better yet please work side by side with line staff, I dare you. Officers should be applauded for the GOOD and positive things they do and not constantly criticized by people like you. SHAME.

  • I think some other LA Co Probation employees were listening and have spoken. A different perspective is being given.

    Maybe investigative reporters like yourself could send out surveys to the employees of respective agency you are interested in fact finding about to get a broader, in the trenches view. Unions do it all the time. That’s if you really want to know what’s going on?

    I’m sure there are ways to get the addresses and contact information. The public and press made sure the names and salaries of all CA public employees is public information.

  • Did you happen to see the stats on how assaults on staff have increased with this new administration or is that something that is hidden by the administration and refused to be looked at by you. No one is relieved with this administration, but yet we have people like yourself who have no clue writing inflammatory articles. Did you write about the race riot. Did you talk about the possible alternatives to deal with the situation. NO! Why because you have no answer!

  • Smells a lot like Pandora’s Box with all of the ingredients. You must be joking about surveys. How many members actually respond to surveys that are given out by ALADS? The validity of inside information that is disseminated all depends on who’s who in the Zoo.

  • Your position is biased and you seem to be an advocate for Chief McDonell and the Board of Supervisors. Why haven’t you talked to some of the civil service representatives of these Probation employees like Victor Manrique who has been a civil service attorney for over 30 years. He other representatives like him can describe how selective and reactive the Department is to who and what they investigate. Be a real journalist and get information from all sides..

  • While I can appreciate you advocacy for the conditions in which the children housed in the juvenile facilities endure, I think some of your analysis is shortsighted. Why not get input from some of the union officials tasked with defending these staff who face disproportional discipline by the department in part to one sided commentary like what you have introduced. There is plenty of room for disagreement. But it would be helpful if you spoke to labor officials who could provide context and another perspective to your concerns.

  • Looks like Celeste got caught up in her own conformation bias, unfortunately she chose to double down with that whopper about “ unnamed staff sources”. Hopefully this openes her eyes to her own bias a little.

  • Since you say you have source within Probation that provided you access to employees personnel files, did you know that Sergio Cano, the supervisor castigated by the Department and your publication had not received ANY of the required training by the Department prior to being assigned to the be the supervisor on duty at Sylmar on the day of that incident? And that he had only been a supervisor for less than a month?

  • You have issues beyond what you write about Probation. Your a sideline reporter. Try walking in the shoes of Probation staff. You can’t and you won’t. You have no clue. Why don’t you talk about the assaults on staff that occur on a daily basis. All you write about are these minors and the living conditions. How there being treated. Realy. There some great Pobarion staff yet you don’t recognize them for their hard work. And what about the victims these minors terrorized and the crime they committed. It’s all about rehabilitating the minor. That minor you speak to or the commission spoke to was calm and nice. Of course he is now. He saw an audience. Clear manipulation but you and the commission don’t see that. Oh right you were only here for 4 hours. Work a week at CJH. You or any one of those commissiooners. I dare you. You and the commissioner would run scared back to your office. Get in the game.

  • Interesting…I agree with you for the most part regarding the non-success rate of the surveys put on by the unions. However, I think a survey put out by an “ un-biased” source, in which the responding personnel don’t feel they will suffer career ending repercussions could be successful at gathering honest data. As long as the staff feel their survey opinions will be locked away in the bottom of a file drawer or “round filed”, I agree what’s the point.

  • After doing this job for 34 years and at every level from GSN to Superintendent I think these Hope Centers are really a farce.
    Kids need structure and discipline. Having little or no consequences for their actions makes this environment more dangerous for both kids and officers.
    These kids will actually become victims when they finally hit the adult system and realize they are really being held accountable for their actions.
    Tell me about “Hope” then. False expectations. Walk in the boots of these officers!

  • I have been quiet to long on the hatchet job you have been doing to the outstanding staff ( both line officers and supervisors) at CJH and the probation dept as a whole. These officers come in day and night, putting their jobs and health on the line in order to protect the county we live in and to assist and mentor the youths in our care, only to be second guessed by people such as yourself who do not have any experience in dealing with sophisticated delinquent minors. All children have to be raised with the knowledge that they’re subject to both negative and positive consequences for the choices they make. Thanks to people such as yourself the consequences for negative behavior are no longer present in CJH and other department facilities. As a result the increase in assaults on other minors and on officers is shocking beyond belief. I challenge you to put on a uniform and witness the job from our point of view.

  • Skydiver16560….Your comments ring so true. You could insert LASD or any other agency who’s task is to deal with housing, maintaining order and enforcing the rules at facilities that house individuals who refuse to obey rules and your observations would be all to applicable.

    We’ve turned into society that backs the bad guys and makes excuses for their actions and with a broad brush stroke eagerly vilifies all the good ones for the mistakes of a few.

  • This article is such a slap in the face to line staff. We do the best we can with the tools we don’t have. I feel I do my job and chart on negative (and positive) behavior as needed. Special Incident Reports to make it stick. The majority of the time, these kids still go home on CDP only to violate the simple terms and come right back. Might I add that they come back smiling, laughing, fresh haircut, and new shoes.. maybe a tattoo also? Probation is a joke and they know it. They know that they can TERRORIZE the officers who care for them. I am referred to as “bitch”, “weird ass bitch”, and other names on a daily basis for doing my job. These six feet plus “children” have threatened to cause great bodily harm, spit, kill my family, and rob me when they go free. These “children” are absolutely capable of these things. Take a moment to look at their charges and listen in on their conversations with the other minors. You tell me how you would feel after hearing them laugh about robbing a lady at gunpoint. I bet you that poor lady is traumatized for life while the “child” MIGHT do a camp program for a few months and blame the world for his wrong doings. At the end of the day, they are to still be treated fairly.. receive all of their Al Jones snacks that they did not earn, participate in all unit activities, receive extra phone calls, and still have the nerve to ask for an extra plate of food during meals. If we say no, they refuse to comply with simple instruction and put all unit activities on hold. We are rewarding them for disgustingly horrid behavior. This IS NOT real life! I tell them on a daily basis that this behavior does not and will not work in the real world. We are setting them up for failure. Maybe that has been the plan all along, though.. county.. prison. Make money off of them maybe? Like everyone else has been stating.. put on a blue shirt, do not reveal who you are and you will see the truth. These “children” are monsters. Probation has created monsters..

  • Another question I have ( admittedly a rhetorical one) is what recourse do we, the officers and management in the department have to get our reputations back after being subjected to these incorrect accusations?

  • Perhaps cameras, (bodycams and otherwise), a good strong unbiased union and a daily log. Surely those things would have a positive effect. Unfortunately the few bad officers (every organization has them) overshadows the righteous good ones. Obviously it appears more to this story.

  • Between the politically correct Board, the Probation Commission and other do gooders, neither the kids nor the staff now stand a chance. The Probation Department has serious and ongoing internal problems that is worsened by poor County practices (i.e. going with the cheapest contract – you get what you pay for!) along with thinly veiled racism at high levels of management. Take a look at management promotions, the historic ethnic make up of certain bureaus and who promotes who… There is no career path – just another new face at the top that knows nothing about the organization every few years.

    Custodial staff are afraid of their own shadows, have the constant threat of discipline hanging over their heads and have been in the unfortunate position of begging, bribing and cajoling inmates that hate authority, are angry, defiant and violent for several years now.

    By the way, a significant number of the “juveniles” in detention are age 18 or close to it – they aren’t little tiny kids. They are strong and larger in stature than some of the staff. Most are extremely gang/drug entrenched and are more concerned re how their homies view their behavior and loyalty in custody than in cooperating and rehabilitating. There are exceptions but unfortunately, they often don’t get the opportunities or attention they should because staff are tied up with the career criminals and yes, we have those in county juvenile facilities.

    These individuals are well aware of their “rights” and have no problem openly declaring their intent to file false complaints against those staff that are assertive in trying to maintain a safe environment. The staff cannot trust the Department to be fair, so they essentially shut down to protect themselves and their paycheck. The message is to just come to work, get by and go home.

    The tone in which this article is written suggests that this “slight…boy” was soft spoken, reformed, eager to get an education and somehow just left in SHU for days by mean spirited staff. Shame on you. The reality of a custodial environment is that while size matters, individuals of small stature can and do create chaos in a unit by being constantly disruptive.

    When that happens, constructive activities w/in the unit/camp are shut down because staff have to stop and deal in the manner prescribed by the Department with that one person – and everyone else suffers as a result. Dealing with these people typically require multiple staff and considerable time; not to mention the paperwork. I hope that people are aware of how manipulative these kids can be – particularly with adults that they size up as useful to them.

    Congratulations to the Board and their collection of political cronies – the inmates are running the asylum. When staff have the ability to impose sanctions meaningful to the offender, you can have a safe and well run facility and can actually teach and help young people but those days are long over. Probation has had an entire class of Detention Services Officers quit within a month and many from other classes don’t last long. When working conditions are this bad, instability reigns and when these youth leave as bad or worse than they entered, no one wins.

    I challenge members of top Probation management, WitnessLA, Board Justice Deputies and the Probation Commission to enter Probation facilities and work as staff on special assignment (keeping your real titles quiet) for a few days and find out what reality is really like. Then you need to listen to input from veteran staff and start all over remodeling all county detention facilities. Since I know that none of you have the guts to do that, the best thing staff can do is get out and find another line of work before they are seriously injured, sued or fired.

  • Ugh. Memories. Fifty years ago I had several visits to the Santa Clara County Juvenile Hall (family friction.) I would have welcomed solitary, as long as I had books to read. A white pimply faced kid doesn’t mix well with streetwise Latino kids.

Leave a Comment