On February 15, 2024, which is next Thursday, the members of The California Board of State and Community Corrections—the BSCC—will decide whether or not LA County’s main youth probation facility, Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall, is or is not “suitable,” to be inhabited by youth and young adults.
A little under a year ago, on May 23, 2023, the BSCC voted to declare Eastlake Juvenile Hall, and Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall “unsuitable” for habitation by young people.
In response to the designation, the county moved most of the population of these facilities to the Downey-located Los Padrinos, 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 Wednesday of this week, however, the state’s independent statutory agency released a terse six-page letter to LA County Probation Chief Guillermo Viera Rosa, informing the chief, plus members of the Board of Supervisors, and other county officials, of the BSCC’s newest findings, which are bad enough that state investigators have recommended a vote on the suitability (or lack thereof) of Los Padrinos to house young people.
Here are three of the 12 different ways that BSCC investigators found Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall to be out of compliance with the oversight board’s most basic of standards.
*On paper, staffing schedules appear to be adequate; however, we observed lack of staffing and staff who appear non-engaged with the youth. Staff are routinely held over without notice to cover shifts or to cover call outs; some report this occurs multiple times a week. Youth report not feeling safe; some youth report urinating in their room at night. Lack of staffing also impacts other areas of noncompliance such as safety checks, room confinement, searches, education, and programs recreation and exercise. The requirements in these regulations are not being regularly provided due to lack of staff.”
*The Use of Force directive/policy was implemented despite actual practices not being implemented. Staff have not been trained for Use of Force, including the use of OC; training requires initial training and an annual refresher. We are aware that training has been developed and scheduling is being planned.
*Discipline is not clearly defined. The new rule book notes consequences are not specific to major or minor rule violations……No documentation was provided or made known for review as to whether there are any provisions for youth with disabilities or limited literacy or language needs…..There are some consequences noted in the handbook, however, Room Confinement is noted as a sanction. This is non-compliant with regulation and contrary to WIC 208.3
(On January 1, 2018, the California State Legislature enacted specific guidelines concerning minors in “room confinement” in a youth detention facility, resulting in WIC 208.3.)
In addition to LP’s 12 issues, Sylmar-located Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall, which was able to retain a small population of young people accused of more serious crimes, is out of compliance in eight areas. And, although it’s not mentioned in Wednesday’s letter, the BSCC examiners have recommended a suitability vote on Barry J as well.
Supervisor Janice Hahn sent out an emailed statement expressing her dismay at the BSCC news.
“To say I am disappointed is an understatement,” Hahn wrote. “We have long known what the BSCC’s expectations were and it is troubling that the department made so little progress and fell so short in meeting them. It is clear that our Probation Department has enormous challenges, from staffing to programming, but it is imperative that we bring these two facilities into compliance because the future of the youth in our care is in jeopardy.”
Hahn, who is running for reelection this year, and whose district includes Los Padrinos, concluded her email by pledging to “put every available County resource behind bringing these facilities into compliance.”
It is not clear exactly what that means. Nor is it clear why such resources would not have been available before now.
Fight clubs and overdoses
The fact that Los Padrinos is in trouble should not come as a surprise to county officials.
As WLA reported last month, on January 10, 2024, Chief Viera Rosa relieved eight of the agency’s peace officers from duty for setting up “gladiator fights,” between the young people in the county’s care in certain units of LP.
“It’s a fight club,” is the way in which one probation source described the matter.
Meanwhile, since the new year began, both Barry J. and LP have reportedly still been dealing with a flood of narcotics—prominently including fentanyl—that make their way into the facilities.
The result has been an ongoing series of overdoses, most requiring the administration of Narcan, often in multiple doses, to bring the drug-taking youths back from, well, death.
You’re not helping
Probation Chief Viera Rosa sent out his own emailed response to the BSCC notice.
“Making the comprehensive changes requested by the BSCC and shifting the overall culture of the County’s juvenile institutions is a monumental undertaking that necessitates both time and dedication,” the chief wrote. “We have the dedication, we need the time. The issues identified by BSCC and others have been persistent for over 20 years. We cannot piecemeal the solution. This is a systemic problem that requires changing an entire operational culture.”
While the goals that BSCC has given the county “are not ambitious in and of themselves,” he wrote, “the timeframe they gave us to complete the work is. To effectuate meaningful change, it is imperative to address deeply ingrained practices and foster a cultural shift that prioritizes rehabilitation, support, and the well-being of the young individuals in our care.”
The letter goes on from there, with the bottom line being, essentially, “look, people, we know way better than you do that we have to change this place from the ground up, but right now you’re not helping.”
Obviously we are paraphrasing here. But Viera Rosa—who previously served on the BSCC himself—has a point.
If Los Padrinos is found “unsuitable,” this will mean a new round of musical chairs in which approximately 300 young people will be moved to another county facility, possibly the previously “unsuitable” Eastlake Juvenile Hall, a move that will be enormously time consuming and extremely disruptive to youth, families, and staff—and will likely accomplish nothing of value to anyone.
More as we know it.