#NoSafePlace Uncategorized

Unsuitable: State oversight commission pronounces LA County’s two juvenile halls as unsuitable for youth residence, as two more kids overdose on fentanyl

Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall's updated entrance, photo courtesy of Los Angeles County Probation
Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

At or around 4 p.m. on Thursday, February 15, after many hours of discussion, plus a string of comments from youth advocates, probation staff, and others, the California Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) completed the task of finding both Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall, and Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall to be “unsuitable” for youth and young adults to be in residence.

Meanwhile, at that same  4 p.m hour on Thursday—as if to illustrate the perilous nature of the conditions addressed by the vote—at Barry J, as the Sylmar facility is known, two kids overdosed on fentanyl, which caused calls to go out to other staff members to rush to the facility on an emergent basis.

According to sources familiar with the situation, the rest of the young people in Unit Y, where the overdoses took place, were spooked by the life-threatening condition of their two unit mates, in part because the new overdoses brought back memories of the fatal overdose of 18-year-old Bryan Diaz last spring.

Diaz had also been a resident of Unit Y, and was reportedly a kid who many of the others valued as a friend.

“I’m just not down for this,” said one kid.

We have also heard from multiple probation sources, and others with knowledge of the situation, that on Thursday afternoon, a tutor working at Barry J was “walked out” of the facility during the same general time frame. (The tutor was reportedly contracted by LACOE from Maxim, an educational staffing service.) Although we were unable to confirm this with county officials, the walk out of the tutor was allegedly the result of the tutor bringing drugs to youth inside Barry J.

Suitable or Unsuitable

As for the unsuitable vote for Los Padrinos, despite some genuine improvements here and there, the facility appears still to be plagued by staggering dysfunction. Yet it is also far from clear how an ‘unsuitable” vote from the state oversight commission can be curative, given the seriousness of the problems, and the fact that last year’s unsuitable designation by the BSCC for Barry J Nidorf and Central Juvenile Hall does not appear to have produced meaningful change, other than the fact that the county was forced to move most of the population of Barry J and Central to the Downey located facility, where fundamental reform was supposed to be instituted.

(LP, as Los Padrinos is known, had been shuttered a few years before for a variety of reasons, so was available.)

On Thursday, February 15, however, the only other option to a yes vote on the issue of unsuitability, was a no vote, which did not seem like any kind of reasonable plan either for Los Padrinos, or Barry J, both of which had been found out of compliance on a meaningful number of the oversight board’s most basic of standards.

Those representing LA County Probation at Thursday’s meeting were Deputy Probation Chief Kimberly Epps, and Sheila Williams, a senior manager with the county’s CEO’s office.  Each of the women seemed sincere but not terribly comfortable as they repeatedly attempted to convince the BSCC board that the county was making meaningful progress with both Barry J and LP.

The board members were not swayed.. 

“I know we’re bankrupt when it comes to credibility,” Epps blurted at one point.

One of the BSCC board members described the situation differently, his tone sober.

“It seems like the house is on fire,” he said, “and you’re acting like it’s a barbecue.”

The state’s other 57 counties aren’t doing this, added the board member.

BSCC Chair, Linda Penner, expressed her own sense of frustration.

“I ‘m struggling,” Penner said to Epps and Williams, “because in my opinion, you’ve known about the deficiencies since last August.  But here we are.”

Furthermore, Penner said after a pause, “I don’t know what to do with your assertion that you’ve ‘fixed it.’”

So now what?

On Friday, the day after the vote, Probation Chief Guillermo Viera Rosa put out an emailed statement about what the two votes of unsuitability meant.

 “As the Chief of LA County’s Probation Department,” Viera Rosa wrote, “I want to personally reassure family members and the community that despite the challenges we are facing, the care and well-being of their loved one remains our top priority.

“I understand that having a family member in our custody can be a distressing experience, and we want to assure you that we are committed to providing the best possible careand support for them. Our team of dedicated professionals is working tirelessly to keep them safe and to ensure that they receive the necessary guidance, resources, and services to help them navigate this difficult period in their lives.”

Most importantly, Viera Rosa continued,  “visitation, programming, and other services will continue.” 

At least they’ll continue for now.  What will happen at the end of 60 days if certain requirements aren’t met by both of the facilities is anything but clear.

Meanwhile, the unsafe conditions inside probation’s youth halls, for both youth and staff, were again demonstrated by the two new overdoses, which were thankfully non-fatal.

Furthermore, although Viera Rosa has assured that family visits to the two newly “unsuitable” youth halls would not be affected, such visits have been limited in the past when there were staff shortages. And the issue of staff shortages, along with the affect of such shortages on any kind of programming for youth is among the main areas in which BSCC investigators found LP to be out of compliance, which, in turn, triggered the unsuitable vote.

Meanwhile, on the topic of visitors to Barry J and LP, WitnessLA has obtained a new and disturbing “visitor agreement” waiver that volunteers and others must sign if they have a reason to visit any of the various youth units in LA County Probation’s youth facilities.

The waiver
Certainly, it is not uncommon for a juvenile hall or camp, or a county jail, or a California state prison, to require visitors to sign an agreement that indicates each visitor understands the rules and regulations governing their time inside the facility.

The new LA County agreement (which you can find here) is titled the “Facility/Office Visit Agreement and Civil Claims Release,” and it is both unusual and alarming.

The first three points covered in the nine-point agreement are fairly run-of-the-mill.

For example, visitors must agree to wear “appropriate attire,” and acknowledge that “it is a crime to bring or send narcotics and/or contraband” into the camps or youth halls during a visit.

Fair enough.

But by item four, it appears that the primary purpose of the document is to prevent any visitor or volunteer (or their family members) from suing LA County if things go terribly wrong during time spent in the youth halls or camps, and the visitor is badly injured or killed, or if a visitor witnesses “conscience shocking” civil right violations that, without the waiver, could result in a lawsuit.

For example, there’s this:

“I waive and release the County of Los Angeles, Probation Department, and all Probation Department Employees from any and all liability for personal injury, death, and/or damage or loss of my personal property occurring during my juvenile hall/camp facility/office location visit. 

I also waive and release any claim arising from or related to the negligent act or omission, or alleged negligent act or omission by any member, employee or agent of the Los Angeles County Probation Department.”

And this:

 I also release any and all civil rights claims, including but not limited to any claims under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 or 1985, that are based on or in any way predicated on any intentional, deliberate, indifferent, or conscience shocking conduct of any member, employee or agent of the Los Angeles County Probation Department…

There’s more, but you get the picture.

So is such a document legal?

To find out, WLA called Sean Kennedy who, among his various arenas of legal expertise and experience, is the Executive Director of Loyola Law School’s Center for Juvenile Law & Policy.

“I don’t know for certain if it’s legal or not, as I’m not an expert in waiver law,” said Kennedy.  “But it shouldn’t be.”

All the focus, said Kennedy, “is on protecting the county’s economic liability,”  by preventing civil rights lawsuits “pertaining to civil rights violations that the county allegedly commits.”

Kennedy also said he found the waiver to be “representative of the broader problem of the juvenile detention crisis” in Los Angeles County, said Kennedy.  “The county’s focus isn’t on improving the situation, it’s with stopping any criticism and potential lawsuits.”

It is also, said Kennedy, “about dehumanizing the people you’re supposed to be serving. And the board of supervisors has allowed it to happen.”

Post Script: We originally believed the waiver pertained to parents as well as volunteers. We have since learned that it likely only pertains to those go inside any of the various youth units in the facility, which parents generally don’t.

We’re attempting to further verify the details of who must sign the waiver, and will let you know what we find.

The whole of this story is one that continues to unfold so…watch this space


  • dehumanizing, yes. That’s what this BOS is doing to the population we work with and to its own staff. BOS has to be held accountable for staff shortages, job freeze horrible working conditions that impact everything else. The people retiring next month is insane, I don’t know how April will look for staffing levels at the facilities and the field. Field staff is so far behind on work and not providing proper supervision or support to the clients we work with.
    This probation administration is horrible. They knew of the issues and within a week span, the line staff (no supervisor and up) have to do training that should have been offered on a yearly basis, fail to do so you get written up. You have line staff working overtime, just to complete a training to could have been completed from August -January, but let’s wait to the last minute.
    This administration continues to fail the population we work with, the community, the victims and its own staff.
    Don’t be surprised if this has been the plan the whole time, but o be closed down by the state and many of the new leaders in the department are state employees that know nothing about working with our population.

  • We need structure in the halls! I’ve been deployed and the youth are now allowed to just step out of their room without first requesting to step out, they walk around aimlessly, cursing, pants sagging and simply out if control. If you were disrespectful m, cursing or in a fight you had time out. There are no consequences now. Its ridiculous and has led to the youths running their own. We used to make movements on quit with youths hands by their side or behind them. Now they walk around with toothbrushes behind their ears towel on their head etc. Its crazy. These youth need structure!

  • Child advocates, although their hearts are in the right place, have helped destroy the department by advocating the stripping of important tools needed to control this population. WLA, Sacramento, and the BOS are just as guilty. There’s a serious staffing shortage because the BOS placed a hiring freeze. Many of the staff are on leave due to injury caused by assaults from the youth. The BOS started this dumpster fire!!
    Vote them OUT!

  • Important Correction based on facts:
    As President of LACEA this statement is incorrect “We have also heard from multiple probation sources, and others with knowledge of the situation, that on Thursday afternoon, a LACOE teacher who worked at Barry J was “walked out” of the facility during the same general time frame.” – The facts are that it was a tutor whom was contracted from Maxim by LACOE that was walked out of the facility. PLEASE CORRECT THIS INFORMATION. We hope that LA Probation lowers the population to the ratio by PREA to provide youth with the required services and educational programs. We have 300 youth and 60 0f them are graduates that could be put on electronic monitoring if they qualify based on risk.

  • Dear David,

    Thank you so very much for the clarification. (As you’ll see the we’ve made the correction.) If you hear anything more about the incident, or anything else you think we should know, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

    Thank you, again.


  • The Root problem of all this B.S was the BOS putting a hiring freeze on the job with the highest turnover position. They sabotaged the probation department on these extreme shortages. They set up the department to fail.
    Now they are pointing at ALL the blame at probation. This is garbage
    Now, all these new staff that are being hired are quitting because they see how jacked up these youth are toward staff. Who in the right mind would want up work were a customer or client can assault you, be-little you, sexually harass you, intimidate you, threaten your life with absolute no consequences. Plus, staff don’t get the support from Management.
    98% of drugs coming through are from PARENTS/FAMILY members, teachers, counselors, outreach personnel, and cbos.
    I’m sure a staff or two might be bringing in drugs too because they are greedy fools.
    Also Ms. Fremon. Parent / family members are getting caught bringing drugs and vape pens in and they are not being arrested or charged. Parents are instructed not to touch, however in the end, parents don’t care about rules and make contact, hence pass drugs. There’s no consequences with this as well and they are allowed to visit the following week. What the heck is this!! They are allowed to come back after getting caught bringing drugs and two, making contact, in with no repercussions.
    However, a minor is OD’s and You want to close these perilous condition juvenile halls. This is crazy. You are getting it all twisted.
    Probation needs an overhaul and advocates need to get a grip of reality.

    You get a grant and open a youth facility in LA county and see how fast it closes.

Leave a Comment