California orders Los Angeles County to close ‘unsuitable’ youth prisons within 60 days

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CHRISTOPHER WEBER | AP Briefs

Los Angeles County has two months to move about 300 young people out of its troubled juvenile halls after California regulators on Tuesday determined the facilities are “unsuitable for the confinement of youth.”

The Board of State and Community Corrections voted unanimously to impose a 60-day deadline for the closure of Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar and Central Juvenile Hall in Boyle Heights.

The state board, which inspects the youth prisons, said the county has been unable over a period of two years to correct problems including inadequate safety checks, low staffing, use of force and a lack of recreation and exercise.

Board members rejected requests from the county for more time to address the issues. “We have stayed in this process much longer than I’m comfortable with,” board chair Linda Penner said. “I’m concerned with the youth who are there right now, and we really must address that. The time has come to take this extraordinary move.”

The Los Angeles County Probation Department, which oversees the juvenile halls, said while it was disappointed by the imposed deadline, “It is time for the department to discontinue using these facilities for housing pre-disposition youth.”

The young people will be moved within two months to the currently shuttered Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey, which was closed four years ago amid a dwindling population and allegations of abuse by staff. “As we look forward to the methodical and smooth transition to Los Padrinos, we will also continue working on the more complicated issues of staffing and culture within the department,” Interim Chief Probation Officer Guillermo Viera Rosa said in a statement. “We look forward to working closely with the BSCC, the California Department of Justice, and court-appointed monitors to ensure a level of long-term constitutional care for our youth.”

The nonprofit Youth Justice Coalition, which has advocated for the halls’ closure, called the board’s decision a “long overdue step toward accountability” for the probation department. “The inability of the department to meet minimum regulations and provide adequate care has caused irreparable trauma to incarcerated youth,” the coalition said in a statement.

The board’s decision comes while California is in the process of phasing out its three remaining state-run youth prisons and shifting the responsibility to counties. The shift to local control is the final step in a lengthy reform effort driven in part by a class-action lawsuit and incentives for counties to keep youths out of the state system. The state-run system has a troubled history marked by inmate suicides and brawls.

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