LA County probation chief moves to raise staffing levels at 'unsuitable' juvenile halls

City News Service
Thursday, May 25, 2023
LA County probation chief to raise staffing levels at juvenile halls
Los Angeles County's interim probation chief ordered all 3,000 sworn peace officers in the department to serve at least one shift a month at juvenile halls.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- One day after state regulators declared the county's two juvenile halls unsuitable to house youth -- with short-staffing among the issues leading to the declaration -- Los Angeles County's interim probation chief Wednesday ordered all 3,000 sworn peace officers in the department to serve at least one shift a month at juvenile halls.

The directive, taking effect June 1, will increase staffing "by ten- fold, flooding them with the personnel needed to reverse the chronic staffing shortages that have been at the heart of our problems there," Interim Probation Chief Guillermo Viera Rosa said in a statement.

On Tuesday, the Board of State and Community Corrections formally declared the Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar and Central Juvenile Hall in Lincoln Heights unsuitable for housing pre-disposition youth, and ordered all detainees to be relocated within 60 days.

The board cited a laundry list of ongoing violations of state standards at the facilities, including sanitary conditions of the housing units, detainees' access to school and other programs and staffing shortfalls.

Following the vote Tuesday, the board was set to formally notify the county of the decision Wednesday, beginning the 60-day clock ticking for all youth to moved out of the halls.

Representatives for the county unsuccessfully asked the board Tuesday for a 150-day delay, saying plans were already under way to relocate pre- disposition youth detainees to the previously closed Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey, but doing so in 60 days could create "chaos" and safety concerns. In its statement released Wednesday, the county Probation Department insisted the move will be completed within 60 days.

Roughly 275 pre-disposition youth -- those who have not yet had their criminal cases resolved in court -- are currently housed in the Nidorf and Central halls, a county representative told the board Tuesday. The BSCC order does not impact post-disposition youth housed in a Secure Youth Treatment Facility within Nidorf hall.

State regulators voted to find two of L.A. County's troubled juvenile halls "unsuitable" to live in on Tuesday. Officials now have two months to move nearly 300 young people.

Viera Rosa last week ordered all of the Probation Department's executive staff to serve one monthly shift at juvenile halls as well. Department officials said Viera Rosa served a shift at Nidort from 10 p.m. Saturday to 10 a.m. Sunday.

"I believe having everyone serve one shift a month in the juvenile halls is an excellent way for all of us to show support for, provide aid to and ensure the safety of our besieged and exhausted fellow officers as we turn the page to Los Padrinos," Viera Rosa said.

County construction crews are working to renovate Los Padrinos hall to resume housing pre-disposition youth. The Probation Department noted that crews are working from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily to meet the 60-day timeline imposed for the move.

In a statement after the board's Tuesday vote, Hans Liang, president of the L.A. County Deputy Probation Officers Union, laid blame on the county and the Board of Supervisors for failing to provide adequate staffing at the halls.

"Officers assigned to the juvenile division are faced with daily youth-on-youth and youth-on-staff assaults and 40% of staff in the juvenile division are now out on injury leave," Liang said. "To make up for the staffing shortfalls, staff are being compelled to work 18- to 24-hour shifts and have reached a breaking point, simply doing the best they can with limited resources and exhaustion."

The BSCC also found the two juvenile halls unsuitable to house youths in 2021, but the facilities managed to remain open. Renewed inspection failures led the board to again initiate the process of declaring the halls unsuitable.

The county Board of Supervisors has been struggling to overhaul the troubled juvenile justice system even as it assumes responsibility for youth being transferred to counties from the state's closing Juvenile Justice facilities.