Not eager for return of juvenile
Officials worry that a proposed shift from state-run
detention halls could overwhelm L.A. County facilities.
As Los Angeles County labors to turn its ailing
juvenile detention department around, and as federal officials launched
an inspection of probation camps Monday, officials expressed concerns
over the governor's proposal to shift up to half the young offenders in
state custody back to counties.
Los Angeles' probation system of roughly 4,000 minors
in three juvenile halls and 19 camps has been plagued by violence among
youths and inadequate staffing. The department has yet to comply with
all of the 56 improvements to the halls mandated after a 2003 Justice
Department report. And federal officials have begun a monthlong visit to
several county probation camps.
Under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's recently proposed
prison reform plan, Los Angeles, home county of nearly a quarter of the
2,800 state-custody youths — many with severe behavioral problems —
would be hard pressed to cope, officials said. "We'd be nuts to assume
an additional responsibility, especially a responsibility of this
magnitude," county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said Friday.
Under the governor's plan, nonviolent male inmates and
female juvenile offenders would serve time in local facilities. The
state would pay counties $94,000 a year for each minor and spend $400
million to build or refurbish juvenile facilities statewide, but local
officials fear that won't be adequate.
The governor's plan makes some sense, one local
Counties offer more treatment programs and
opportunities for youngsters than the state Division of Juvenile
Justice, said David Davies, a top L.A. County Probation Department aide.
And, he added, it makes sense to locate teens closer to home. "Having
our minors locally gives us certainly a better opportunity to work with
the minor and the family," Davies said. On the other hand, space to
house teenage offenders locally is scarce, and officials are leery of
the lack of detail in the governor's plan.
"The governor's budget proposal is really a skeleton
that has to be fleshed out," said Bob Taylor, the county's chief
probation officer. "There's going to have to be considerable dialogue
between the county and the state as to what this new system will look
like" and the implications for the jail system as a whole.
The Board of Supervisors approved a motion by
Yaroslavsky last week for probation officials to try to determine the
potential effects of the governor's plan.
Regardless of the plan's specifics, Los Angeles is
"not equipped to deal with the really hard-core youth authority
offenders," said Ralph Miller, president of the American Federation of
State, County and Municipal Employees Local 685, which represents 4,000
Los Angeles County probation officers. "We don't have room."
The county is in the midst of revamping its probation
camps, and the board has allocated more than $40 million for more staff
and improved surveillance in the camps and the halls. The department
also is working to include families in efforts to rehabilitate youths at
the camps. The hiring of almost 400 staffers in the halls was part of an
effort to emphasize rehabilitation over confinement alone, Davies said.
Taylor expects the Justice Department to report its
findings on the camps within six months.
He said federal officials have offered the county up
to three more years to comply with the Justice Department's requirements
for improving juvenile halls. Among them are establishing an electronic
tracking system for minors' medical records and improving schooling for
violent inmates. County administrators, who Taylor said have met more
than half of the requirements to date, are scrambling to meet the
remaining ones to avoid the imposition of a consent decree.
"We obviously can't take on additional obligations
until we fix the obligations that we have," County Administrator David
Janssen said of the prospects of a state-ordered inmate transfer.
Yet there has been progress in improving the halls,
Davies said. Violence by youths against one another is down over last
year, as is the use of force by deputies, both attributable to increased
staffing levels and better training, he said.
As the county's juvenile detention system takes small
steps forward, officials "have to tread very carefully so that we don't
overburden or overwhelm the department when it's in a very fragile
state," said Anna Pembedjian, justice deputy for Supervisor Mike
23 January 2007