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L.A. County Saves Juvenile Halls, But Skepticism Remains

Facing a deadline to improve dire conditions inside its two juvenile halls or shut them down, Los Angeles County won a reprieve from the Board of State and Community Corrections by beefing up staffing enough to appease regulators, the Los Angeles Times reports. The board said the eleventh-hour improvements to Los Padrinos in Downey and Barry J. Nidorf in Sylmar had done the job. They voted 6 to 3 to let the county’s Probation Department keep its two halls open, primarily because of increased staffing levels. This means the roughly 350 youths in county custody will stay put unless the staffing starts to slip again. “Your mission now is sustainability,” said Linda Penner, who chairs the state board. L.A. County has repeatedly come under fire from the board, which oversees correctional facilities statewide, for incarcerating young people in dangerous facilities.

The problems at each facility mostly stem from inadequate staffing. Many employees have said the halls are too dangerous to work in. There often weren’t enough employees on hand to take youths to their programs, classes, or, when necessary, to the bathroom. Deputies also reported an increase in violent incidents, traumatizing both youths and staff. At Thursday’s meeting, inspectors painted a better picture of conditions inside the halls, noting staffing had increased at both places. The agency pulled probation staff who usually work in the field and placed them in the halls, helping them meet minimum staffing requirements. However, many advocates appeared deeply skeptical that the improvements would last more than a few weeks. ”Most people would reasonably say there’s a Band-Aid approach employed to the staffing problem,” said board member Brian Richart, the chief probation officer for El Dorado County. Allison Ganter, deputy director with the state board, said she found in her recent inspections that safety checks were up and room confinement was down. Youths appeared to be getting more programming and school time. But she, too, seemed skeptical the agency could maintain the level of staffing that spurred the fixes.


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