L.A. juvenile hall fails inspection weeks after another facility shutdown

Inspectors from the Board of State and Community Corrections found that youths were being held in isolation longer than necessary


By James Queally
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Barry J. Nidorf juvenile hall failed an inspection by state regulators Thursday, just weeks after approximately 140 youths were hastily transferred there due to the shutdown of Los Angeles County's other troubled juvenile facility.

Once again, inspectors from the Board of State and Community Corrections found that youths were being held in isolation longer than necessary, according to Tracie Cone, a spokeswoman for the board. The error marked a violation of the corrective action plan put in place by the BSCC after the oversight agency found the county's juvenile halls were unsuitable to house youths last year, Cone said.

The Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, Calif.
The Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, Calif. (Photo/Kent Nishimura of Los Angeles Times via MCT)

At its next public meeting on April 7, the BSCC could once again deem the county unsuitable to care for young people, which would give the county Probation Department 60 days to fix problems outlined by state regulators or remove all youths from the facility, Cone said.

The failed inspection is the latest in a series of blunders by the Probation Department, which oversees the county's juvenile halls. Last month, the Probation Department hastily transferred 140 youths to Nidorf Hall from the long troubled Central Juvenile Hall ahead of a scheduled BSCC inspection.

The Times reported in March that employees were given little to no warning of the move and that the Probation Department had insufficient staff on hand to conduct the transfers safely.

Employees who spoke to The Times on the condition of anonymity described a chaotic situation that saw youths lashing out at officers, while parents who were not properly notified of the transfers showed up at Central, confused about why their children weren't there.

During previous BSCC reviews, the Probation Department was chastised for failing to complete health assessments for newly admitted young people and failing to justify placing youths in solitary confinement for long periods of time.

Cone said the more recent violations were less severe.

"They still had some issues with room confinement by not consistently meeting their self-imposed one-hour time limit during shift changes," Cone wrote in an email to The Times, noting that the board would take into consideration the fact that staff are "dealing with the increased population from Central and appear to be making strides toward compliance."

In a statement issued late Friday, the Probation Department said it had implemented a new directive to fix the problem, and officials had "not determined that the youth will be moved to any other location" and will stay in Nidorf.

The BSCC's investigator also raised issues with the fact that youths were not being given "meaningful" access to outdoor recreation, and instead were spending most of that time inside Nidorf Hall watching television, according to a Probation Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

At the hearing next week, the board will have the option to postpone until its June meeting a determination as to whether the county facilities are suitable to house juveniles. That would give the Probation Department more time to make improvements, Cone said.

Operations at Central Juvenile Hall were suspended for 90 days last month, but probation officials have said they expect to reopen the facility ahead of schedule. The L.A. County Board of Supervisors, meanwhile, approved a motion last month to examine the permanent closure of Central Juvenile Hall, citing its long history of problems and decrepit conditions at the century-old structure.

In a statement, L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis said the failed inspection was illustrative of larger problems with the Probation Department and further proof of the need to find alternatives to incarceration for youths who have committed crimes.

"With this failed inspection, it has put the youth at Barry J. Nidorf and Central Juvenile halls at further risk which will require swift and decisive action from the Probation Department's leadership, with oversight from the Probation Oversight Commission and the Board [of Supervisors], to come up with a plan to get the two county juvenile halls up to standard while temporarily finding a more suitable place for the youth," she said.

©2022 Los Angeles Times. Visit latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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