Leaders voted to re-open a vacant detention camp to house the county’s most serious youth offenders while also eyeing the closure of 110-year old Central Juvenile Hall.
Dozens of Los Angeles County youth offenders who’ve been held in limbo in a juvenile hall devoid of necessary programming will soon be headed to rehabilitative camps in more remote areas, following a vote by county supervisors today.
Continuing their push for a “reimagined” youth justice system, a majority of supervisors also called for initial steps that could lead to the “closure and demolition” of the county’s 110-year-old Central Juvenile Hall.
“This was the best thing that could have happened,” Kyuane McKibbins, a 22-year-old with the Anti-Recidivism Coalition who has served time in both local and state detention facilities told The Imprint. “This shows that they are serious about rehabilitation and not just seeing kids as their charges. By moving into a different environment with a new culture, it gives us hope.”
In 2020, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) elected to close down the state’s youth prison system, citing a desire to improve outcomes for young people who committed violent crimes and bring them closer to their families and communities. Since July 2021, counties up and down the state have housed those charged with the most serious offenses in county-run facilities tasked with providing therapeutic services in some cases through age 25.
The question about where to house Los Angeles County youth offenders had led to a standoff, resulting in dueling plans from supervisors presented today.
Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Holly Mitchell’s plan — approved by the board on a 4-1 vote — calls on the probation department to transfer roughly 25 young people currently held at the Barry J. Nidorf juvenile hall in Sylmar to Campus Kilpatrick in Malibu, a treatment facility in Commerce and a vacant camp in Santa Clarita. Supervisors said consultants will study whether the sites need additional security features.
Under a failed proposal by Supervisor Kathryn Barger, the detained youth would have remained at the juvenile hall — a facility designed for short-term stays while youth await court hearings, not for years-long sentences and programming space needed to provide treatment, education and vocational needs.
What’s more, revelations of inhumane treatment at Barry J. Nidorf have continued to mount. In January 2021, L.A. County entered into a settlement and court oversight with the California Department of Justice after an investigation revealed staff members’ excessive use of force and chemical spray, a lack of mental health services, and conditions so dire young people were forced to urinate in milk cartons. Another investigation by the county’s Probation Oversight Commission last month found youth locked alone in cells for long periods of time and food with bugs in it.
“Barry J. is a children’s prison,” UCLA justice fellow Leah Zeidler-Ordaz said at the public meeting. “The culture of that facility is punishment, shame, harm and that cannot be transformed or reformed. You cannot transform a place where urine-soaked walls, OC spray and treating young people like they aren’t human beings is the status quo.”
Eight months ago, supervisors voted to send the youth being held for serious and violent offenses to Campus Kilpatrick in Malibu. The spot was intended to be temporary, while improvements were made to Camp Joseph Scott, a vacant juvenile detention facility in Santa Clarita for boys. Girls were to be held at another camp in Commerce.
But residents in both those communities joined the probation department in objecting to the sites being used to house offenders who could no longer be sent to state prisons under the statewide reforms. That left an increasing number of youth in limbo at Barry J. Nidorf.
While Los Angeles County officials deliberated over where to house the youth in their care, precious rehabilitative time has been lost. Critics say the county has failed to provide educational and vocational services the youth have a right to under juvenile law — programming that ultimately serves public safety if young people are assisted in turning away from crime.
“Instead, these youth right now are sitting in their dorms watching television, or playing video games,” said Supervisor Hilda Solis. “This is irresponsible and it is unfair not only to our youth, but to our responsibility because we are supposed to be providing them with services.”
Some community members and government officials in Santa Clarita, La Verne and Malibu decried the effort to place these juvenile offenders in nearby secure juvenile detention camps, citing public safety risks and the prospect of lowered property values.
“No matter how you try to spin it, murderers, rapist and arsonists are convicted felons and do not belong anywhere in residential neighborhoods, schools, parks or businesses,” Saugus resident Keith Moore wrote to the board of supervisors. “Please select a remote location for a permanent site for the rehabilitation needs.”
Opponents supported keeping youth at Barry J. Nidorf, which they said would be easier for service providers, probation employees and family members to reach.
Supervisor Kuehl said education and rehabilitative services help youthful offenders return safely to their communities, citing research. She said the union representing probation employees had sent letters to local city governments that unfairly stoked public fears about the county’s youth justice plans.
“We are the ones called upon to do what’s right and this is what’s right,” Kuehl said. “Courage should be infectious for everybody to say no to people that want to characterize these kids as animals.”
Supervisor Barger strongly disagreed with the county’s plan to move youth out of the temporary juvenile jail facility. She voted against the motion by Kuehl and Mitchell, and unsuccessfully put forward her own plan to remodel the Barry J. Nidorf facility to provide a more “home-like” setting.
Barger’s motion followed a February report by the probation report that said housing youth in a remodeled Sylmar juvenile hall would be more cost-effective and could be implemented quicker than other proposals, while remaining aligned with state and local commitments to trauma-informed care.
Barger called the vote a frustrating outcome that “defies some common sense considerations.” She also pledged to closely follow the plans to remodel Camp Scott, and to ensure that extensive security upgrades would be in place before any youth arrive.
“We can’t afford to get this wrong,” Barger said.
At their Tuesday meeting, four supervisors also voted to explore razing the county’s dilapidated Central Juvenile Hall, with Barger again dissenting. The 110-year-old facility has been temporarily closed for repairs as of last week, in preparation for a state inspection. The roughly 130 occupants of the juvenile hall are now being held at the Barry J. Nidorf facility.
Now, a report on timelines, cost, and other considerations for the “successful closure and demolition” of the Central Juvenile Hall will be produced in 120 days.
Supervisors Kuehl and Solis called spending time and money on repairing the aging juvenile hall a “Sisyphean task,” particularly as local officials seek to reduce youth incarceration through the county’s Youth Justice Reimagined initiative.
Last year, state inspectors called the facility now under renovation “unsuitable for the confinement of minors.” “There are simply no repairs that can improve the well-being of our youth who are there,” Solis said. “The solution isn’t in my opinion to throw more money at it, more coats of paint on the walls or even continue with Band-Aid solutions, but a more permanent plan.”