In just nine days after reopening Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Los Angeles County, seven youths had smashed apart a table and used the pieces as weapons, attacking staff and attempting to break out into the streets of Downey, the Los Angeles Times reports. The reopening was supposed to be the beginning of a new era, with the county's top probation official declaring a "mission accomplished" for carrying out 300 state-mandated transfers in less than two months. But the brawl and chaotic escape attempt were not the first signs that the Probation Department’s long-term struggles to safely care for youth may have carried over to Los Padrinos, according to a review of internal department documents, interviews with multiple probation officials who have worked at the facility and parents of children housed there.
A week before the riot, the discovery of a gun in a staff member’s office forced a facility-wide lockdown. Kids who were trapped in their rooms for hours with no bathroom access resorted to urinating and defecating on their beds while officers searched the facility for contraband, according to probation officials and parents in contact with their children at Los Padrinos. Some county leaders have brushed off the recent incidents as growing pains, the inevitable aftermath of moving roughly 270 youth, mostly ages 15 to 18, into new surroundings on a tight timeline. They’re optimistic that the new start will mark a turning point for a department where records show some officers are routinely not showing up for work. While Los Padrinos is not brand new — it was shuttered in 2019 amid abuse allegations and a shrinking population of incarcerated juveniles in L.A. County — it is the most modern of the county’s three juvenile halls. Probation officials hoped the shortened commute for officers who lived in the South Bay and normally traveled to facilities in downtown L.A. or the San Fernando Valley for work would improve staffing levels. In addition to absenteeism, the facility was not prepared to house kids despite receiving a green light from state regulators to open, according to two probation officials who have worked shifts at Los Padrinos and spoke anonymously for fear of reprisals from their employer. There were “no chairs, books, basketballs, trash cans … there wasn’t anything. They just threw us over there. Nothing was set up for these kids,” one of the officials said.