As most WitnessLA readers know, just under six months ago, on May 23, The California Board of State and Community Corrections—or BSCC— took the radical step of voting unanimously to legally declare that LA County Probation’s two main youth lock-ups “unsuitable” for habitation by kids or young adults.
(The BSCC is the state’s independent statutory agency, which provides oversight for adult and juvenile criminal justice systems in California’s counties.)
LA County’s two unsuitable facilities, Barry J Nidorf Juvenile Hall and Central Juvenile Hall, had been dodging the specter of this vote for at least two years.
In any case, the result of last spring’s unsuitable designation was that Barry J Nidorf Juvenile Hall and Central Juvenile Hall were emptied of youth—or nearly so—and those youth moved to Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey, which was at that time mostly shuttered, thus could be made available to house 300 or so youth with a bit clean up, and a bunch of repairs.
It was intended that by bringing kids to LP, as the Downey facility is called, and leaving only 40 young people at Barry J Nidorf, the chronic and dangerous problems that led to the “unsuitable” vote would be cured by a detailed plan of action devised by county officials, and the new chief of probation, Guillermo Viera Rosa.
The BSCC’s newest report
So, what do BSCC inspectors think now, nearly six months after the May 23, 2023, unsuitable vote? Has there been a measurable improvement?
This past Tuesday, Sept. 14, the BSCC had its every-other-month meeting, where the BSCC inspectors delivered their report to the board, and anyone else in attendance, either in person or virtually. And the news wasn’t all that cheering.
Specifically, they found that Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall is out of compliance in 12 critical areas, and Barry J is out of compliance in ten important areas, for a combined total of 22 areas of non-compliance.
At Los Padrinos (LP) the first area of non compliance is the hall’s lack of an adequate number of staff members.
The “staffing schedules appear to be adequate,” wrote the inspectors. But the facts on the ground turned out to be otherwise, when the BSCC inspectors actually visited both of the facilities..
“We observed a lack of staffing, and staff who appear non-engaged with the youth,” wrote the inspectors.
“Staff are routinely held over without notice to cover shifts or to cover call outs,” a condition that staff inside Los Padrinos told the investigators, “occurs multiple times a week.”
(WLA’s sources continue to report that LP is operating with approximately 20 percent of the needed staff.)
In LP, “youth reported not feeling safe,” wrote the investigators. Some youth, they said, reported having to urinate in their rooms at night, due to the staffing shortages.
This lack of adequate staffing, according to the inspectors, “also impacts other areas of noncompliance” such as regular “safety checks,” the overuse of room confinement, the failure to search of cells for contraband (like the flood of drugs that seem to make their way into the two facilities), getting kids to high school and college classes, and/or other programs “that state law requires such as ‘recreation, and exercise.’”
(Note: California state law prohibits minors in juvenile detention facilities to be held in ‘room confinement” for more than four hours, absent special circumstances.)
Barry J. Nidorf has much fewer young people than LP, as it only houses approximately 40 SYTF youth who, in previous years, would have gone to the now-shuttered state facilities.
Yet, according to the new BSCC report, which you can read here, many of the problems at LP also showed up for Barry J.
For example, the inspectors found that, contrary to what they were told, time between safety checks exceeded the required 15 minutes. “We conducted a review of a random sample of video, which indicates inconsistencies” with what was reported.
At Barry J the investigators observed that the “facility does not provide youth with age-appropriate, stimulating recreational activities to engage in” during their recreation time. “Youth do not have access to television or age-appropriate movies or entertainment.”
This can result in youth with nothing to do, a situation that rarely leads to anything good.
The investigators noted that, even when it came to programs that were reportedly provided for the youth, the “sign-in sheets of youth attendance,” kept by the particular program’s provider, don’t “consistently match” the facility’s youth sign-in records.
In this round of reports, two of LA County Probation’s youth camps—Camp Joseph Paige, and Campus Kilpatrick—are also out of compliance in a cluster of areas, such as providing, “a suitable age-appropriate incentive-based program to encourage positive behavior that includes disciplinary actions as appropriate.”
Yet, it is the conditions at Los Padrinos and Barry J. Nidorf that the investigators describe as the most seriously out of compliance .
On the other hand, while it is not at all good news that this month’s BSCC report lists a combined total of 22 areas of non-compliance at LA’s two youth halls, the inspectors’ new report doesn’t have the same house-on-fire tone of the report the oversight commission presented in February of this year.
In the February 2023 report, Barry J Nidorf Juvenile Hall and Central Juvenile Hall were dangerously out of compliance in 39 categories, a situation that eventually led to the “unsuitable” designation for both facilities.
Hopefully by February 15, 2024, when the BSCC next meets, matters at Los Padrinos and Barry J Nidorf will have improved for both youth and staff members.
More as we know it.