LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- Calling Los Angeles County's juvenile halls "appalling," state Attorney General Rob Bonta said Wednesday his office has filed court papers seeking to force the county to immediately remedy "illegal and unsafe" conditions in the facilities.
The motion filed in Los Angeles Superior Court asks for an order requiring the county to comply with a 2021 judgment ordering improvements in conditions at juvenile halls, including improved staffing levels and ensuring that youth in the county's care are taken to school and medical appointments.
"The conditions within the juvenile detention centers in Los Angeles County are appalling," Bonta said in a statement. "Every child in our state is entitled to a safe, homelike environment. For justice-involved youth in particular, it is imperative that our institutions give them every opportunity for rehabilitation, growth, and healing. We are responsible for protecting justice-involved youth and ensuring they receive educational, health, and supportive services necessary to stop the cycle of incarceration."
The county Board of Supervisors has been struggling to overhaul the troubled juvenile justice system even as it prepares to assume responsibility for youth being transferred to counties from the state's soon-to-close Juvenile Justice facilities.
The board recently voted to advance a "Global Plan" for the placement and care of juvenile detainees, with a goal of reducing the number of juveniles in custody and development of Secure Youth Treatment Facilities to provide a more supportive environment for detained youth.
But while those plans have been slowly advancing, the juvenile detention system and the Probation Department that oversees it have been routinely under fire from state regulators over conditions at the facilities.
In March of last year, about 140 juvenile detainees were hastily transferred from Central Juvenile Hall in Lincoln Heights to Barry J. Nidorf hall in Sylmar -- a move that the county inspector general later concluded was orchestrated to avert a state inspection that appeared likely to fail.
Late last year, nearly 300 boys and girls filed a lawsuit alleging they were sexually assaulted, harassed and abused by county probation and detention officers while being held at juvenile facilities dating back to the 1970s.
In March, the Board of Supervisors fired Probation Department Chief Adofo Gonzales, with board Chair Janice Hahn noting that the juvenile halls "are in crisis."
The Los Angeles Times reported last month that state regulators were threatening to shut down Nidorf and Central halls. In the past, the state board has determined the county's juvenile halls were "unsuitable," but gave the county Probation Department more time to submit a "corrective action plan" to comply with state regulations.
Responding to Bonta's action Wednesday, the county Probation Department issued a statement saying it "continues to take substantial steps to remedy the issues" raised by the Attorney General's Office.
"Central to those efforts is an accelerated hiring and incentive plan addressing the staffing shortages at Central and Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Halls," according to the department. "The plan is aimed at curtailing absenteeism and leaves by current probation staff, while adding 450 new or transferred officers by the end of 2024. The Probation Department has already installed a state-of-the-art electronic room check system in the halls and is in the process of putting security cameras in common areas of the juvenile halls as it converts the facilities into home-like settings that reflect the county's philosophy of restorative juvenile justice."
The department noted that it is also working to more quickly contract for youth programming and retraining staffers on "de-escalation tactics" while phasing out the use of pepper spray.
"Throughout all this, the department has worked closely with the court-appointed monitor for the 2021 stipulated judgment," according to the department. "As always, our primary concern is for the safety and wellbeing of the young people in our care -- and to provide the best possible therapeutic environment for those we serve."
The motion filed by the state Attorney General's Office on Wednesday asks a judge to mandate that the county:
-- transport youth from their units in the juvenile halls to school daily;
-- deliver compensatory education services to youth who are entitled to them;
-- ensure youth have access to daily outdoor recreation;
-- document and review all use-of-force incidents, following procedures outlined in the original judgment;
-- install video cameras throughout Barry J. Nidorf juvenile hall; and
-- implement a "positive behavior management plan."
According to a statement from the AG's Office, the county -- plagued by a staffing crisis at the juvenile halls -- "has not just failed to make forward progress towards compliance with the judgment, it has actually regressed away from complying with the most basic and fundamental provisions that ensure youth and staff safety and well-being."
The AG's Office alleged that due to low staffing levels, youth in the county detention halls have been "forced to urinate and defecate in their cells overnight," and some staffers have been required to work 24-hour shifts.
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