Sunday, June 2, 2019

Juvenile Hell: The Kids Have Taken Over the Asylum in LA County

When I was a substitute, I used to work in juvenile halls throughout Los Angeles County. I taught classes to students who had been arrested for multiple crimes, whether it was excessive truancy, property crime. In some cases, there were kids who had assaulted or beaten up others--very serious crimes.

And there were even some students who had molested other kids. Pretty awful stuff.

I was the teacher in those facilities off and on. When the ACLU sued the Los Angeles County Office of Education for removing juvenile students excessively from class,

At one point, a restructing program had been put in place, so that students would no longer be removed for good from a classroom. If they misbehaved, came off task, argued with the teacher, got into a fight, etc., they would go to the principal or assistant principal's office. Sometimes, probation officers would work direclty with the young inmates to get them on task.

The restructuring program was making things worse, not better. One teacher (let's call him Dr. T.) complained about the restructuring process. "This is not working", he told me. That same day was my last day working in Los Padrinos. The last class I taught was so out of control, and the kids did not listen to me or even to the staff.

During one class, the probation officer who supervised the final exit of the students from the class would curse and swear at the students to keep them in line. The look of fear in the probation officers was real.

This took place 8 years ago. I cannot imagine how bad the situation has become in the different juvenile hall facilities today.

This article shares some really disconcerting details on what has happened all over Los Angeles County in the juvenile hall system.

The detention officer’s email described “chaos” inside one of Los Angeles County’s juvenile halls.

Her words were desperate, describing unruly, violent youth and fed up detention officers — enough to prompt a surprise visit by Joe Gardner, president of the county’s volunteer advisory panel, the Probation Commission.

Wow. The advisory board finally showed up to see what was going on. I wonder if that was the first visit?

Inside the Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, he found shattered windows, smashed walls and tiles ripped from the ceilings. Phones in common areas were busted and debris lay scattered on the floors. Gang graffiti had been scrawled on the walls. The staff were overwhelmed.

Destruction and total lawlessness defined the scene. How terrible is that. Is that what the county wants for our children? For children who have slipped through the cracks and end up in a life of crime?

“I was stunned,” Gardner said of the facility, where about 200 youths are housed behind a sturdy, red-brick wall topped with circular barbed wire. “Some of the damage appears to have taken time to do. It appeared there really wasn’t the oversight that there needed to be.”

The “chaos” in Sylmar is far from an anomaly. Officers have long argued that their workplaces are becoming more violent — and data backs that up. But internal reports and photographs obtained by The Times show just how dangerous and dysfunctional Los Angeles County’s youth detention operation has become.

Shameful. I remember one friend of mine suggested that I apply to serve in the LA County probation and youth detention facitilies--as a probation officer. My initial and final responses were quick and simple: NO WAY!

The L.A. County Probation Department is facing a series of serious problems, including bursts of violence among detainees, plummeting officer morale and the organizational headaches from closing several detention facilities. Six officers also were recently charged with child abuse and assault over the unreasonable use of pepper spray on several teenagers, putting even more political pressure on the department to stop using it by the end of the year.

"A series of serious problems". Ouch.

When officers want to take charge of a situation, they get charged with a crime? Who needs that aggravation? Employees in law enforcement need the liberty to do their jobs without perverse disincentives. Everyone is so afraid of a lawsuit, that no one will do anything.

I experienced this frustration when I worked in the LA County Office of Education as a paraeducator. The staff I worked with so feared a lawsuit, they would allow the most violent kids with special needs to get away with ... anything!

“We have way more than enough staff. The problem is people aren’t coming to work because they are afraid,” said Stacy Ford, a veteran detention officer and an executive on rehabilitation camp issues for the rank-and-file union, AFSCME Local 685.

I think it's worth while listening to this union rep. She has nothing to lose by telling the press the truth. Besides, unon reps will usually complain that a government facility has not hired enough people. In this case, there is enough staff, but they just refuse to show up.

In recent months, the department has acknowledged large fights involving multiple youths, including one last month at Camp Rockey in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. In that incident, young detainees engaged in two separate fights, requiring staff to call in reinforcements to help restore peace and supervise the facility, the department said. Two staff and one detainee required medical attention.

The fighting is spilling out of control. There is no respect nor regard for the rule of law, and as a result the juveniles have no one keeping them in line. This is utter desperation, total lawlessness!

In March, a female detainee leaving a court facility in Compton began to kick the seats and windows of her transport van. The officers struggled to control her, and she repeatedly spat on them. When one officer tried to block the flying saliva, the youth lunged forward and bit the officer’s hand, breaking the skin. She continued to kick, yell obscenities and resist. The officers had to repeatedly call for assistance en route to their destination, according to the report.

One young juvenile caused this much trouble. This is unreal. What is going on here?

In April at Central Juvenile Hall, three youths refused to enter their rooms after eating, delaying a second group’s entrance into the food hall for dinner. At the same time, officers reported they could sense tension coming from the second group related to a previous incident, in which one youth refused to hold a door for another. An officer tried to cool the tension. But they refused to calm down and words involving “gang activity” were exchanged. The officers eventually had to use an upper-body restraint to keep the enraged youths apart.

What else should the staff expect to happen? What else are we expecting to go on? The students have no fathers, no one to discipline them, to hold them accountable. Then they end up in these juvenile facilities, and what's left? What's the result? They have more chaos and disorder. Is there anyway out for these young people?

Such incidents occur almost daily. When they do, detention officers say the recent backlash over the use of force inside the facilities, including an overreliance on pepper spray, has made them increasingly worried about being subjected to internal discipline.

Yes. I know this fear. This concern that administrators would give me a hard time for laying down the law, so to speak, was an ongoing concern I had to deal with many times.

Over time, officers have become reluctant to physically restrain youths to control tense situations, allowing eruptions to occur that have led to injuries or property damage.

“There are no consequences for the negative behavior,” Ford said.

This is one of the reasons why I dismiss teachers who say that they are the parents for the students in their classrooms. Most of the time, teachers will chose their lives, their families, their careers over the students in their classes. That's the nature of things. We are going to take of those individuals, those concerns which are closest to us!

In Sylmar, the conditions were so alarming that Gardner penned a three-page letter to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. In it, he described the officer-turned-whistleblower’s concerns about staff working to a “breaking point” because of officers calling in sick and the intense conditions requiring forced overtime among those who did report to work.

What a shame, to have probation officers calling in sick because they so fear getting harmed or prosecuted for doing their jobs. I had this experience one time at Los Padrinos. One students resisted leaving the classroom when I told him to leave. He got really close to me and he threatened to punch me. While he was balling up his fist, the probation officer sat by, somewhat fatigued,

The officer worried about staff fatigue and injuries, saying that fights and assaults were daily occurrences — and that the officers were confused about how best to prevent them.

They are not confused. They know what needs to be done. They just fear doing what is right, because they will face criminal prosecution for doing so.

”There are significant problems at the facility,” she wrote in the email to Gardner. “The facility is significantly understaffed each day. Employees are stated to be quitting.”

I would quit, too, if I were they.

In fact, I ended up getting out of teaching because I was not permitted to ... teach! I was expected to put up with abuse and disrespect. I made a decision that I would refuse to do so.

In another telling example from the email, the officer said that basketball hoops had been removed because a youth had “escaped a building and climbed onto the goal post and kept staff at bay for six hours.”

Unreal. This is a joke!

The detention officer who sounded the alarm isn’t a union executive. She declined a request for an interview and requested anonymity, citing department policy against unauthorized media communications, and a broader concern about internal retaliation. Because it involves youth and law enforcement, much of the county’s juvenile operation remains secret.


Part of the strain on detention officers is because the Probation Department continues to close facilities amid falling youth crime rates and a shift away from incarceration, while also grappling with an increasingly troubled population that has suffered from trauma, county officials say.

Interesting ... youth crime rates are dropping, and yet there is more criminal activity in the juvenile hall facilities themselves?

Inside facilities such as Barry J. Nidorf, where as many as 90% of the youths have an open mental health case, according to the county’s Department of Mental Health, the existing staff are expected to provide more intense, one-on-one supervision. But that can leave their colleagues without immediate backup, and so the department has begun asking officers from other facilities to volunteer for overtime shifts.

The mental health issues go away when the love of the Father pours into their hearts (1 John 2:15-16). Of course, preaching the Gospel is forbidden, as well, in these departments. Is it any surprise that we have seen such moral decline throughout the country?

This mix of factors has contributed to an increase in violence among detainees and assaults against the detention officers in recent years. Systemwide, there were at least 88 instances of youth-on-youth violence and another 46 direct assaults on staff in March, according to data the department began publishing recently.

The kids are running the juvenile hall. Nothing good can come of any of this.

Indeed, the officer who emailed Gardner was concerned that Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall was becoming overcrowded by the arrival of youths from another hall, Los Padrinos, which is slated to close in July. That perception of overcrowding persists, even though county statistics show the hall’s population has remained relatively constant in the last year.

Wow! That is crazy ...


Here are the reasons why: click here. Low morale was scaring off staff who no longer wanted to work there. The juvenile population was decreasing, as well. When there are no students, there is no money, and therefore there is no purpose to keeping the facility open.

At the same time, the Probation Department has faced criticism recently over the excessive use of pepper spray by some detention officers — incidents that prompted the Board of Supervisors to phase in a ban and recently resulted in criminal charges against several county employees.

Yes, it's true that five probation officers were facing criminal charges for pepper-spraying five girls in the juvenile detention facility. Here's the thing: probation staff do not go into the profession in order to get beaten up or killed by the student inmates. They have every right and responsibility to protect themselves and the other inmates.

It's bad enough that there are so many teachers in the regular public school population who do not feel safe, who do not feel that they can manage their classrooms without terrible, negative pushback from administration. Imagine how much worse it must be for staff in a probation/juvenile hall setting, in which students are ready to harm and even kill?!

For years, I heard from other substitute teachers that the best assignment was in juvenile hall, since the probation officers were always off to the side, waiting in the wings, ready to step in and help you if you needed it. It was pretty easy to remove really bad students, as well.

It's pretty shocking to learn that the probation department was losing its grip on keeping the kids in line. The last time I worked in Los Padrinos, in 2012, I was starting to see the probation staff struggling to keep kids in line. The administration felt increased pressure to keep the students in the classroom as much as possible.

That has fueled additional staff anxiety about losing a tool they feel helps them maintain control, even though youth advocates contend pepper spray is inhumane and inhibits rehabilitation.

Probation Department officials downplayed the reports of chaos.

Of course they do! Everything is so political now, especially in the classroom when dealing with children. That is the worst place for politics, sadly, since kids need adults who will put their best interests first, not their own careers or their own power.

“Are you going to have incidents? You absolutely are,” said Deputy Chief Probation Officer Sheila Mitchell, who oversees the department’s juvenile supervision efforts. “When we do, we respond quickly. We make sure that the children and the staff are in good stead.”

She acknowledged the recent incidents involving unruly youth at the Barry J. Nidorf facility, but said the damage was isolated to one area and not indicative of the county’s overall operation, which includes two other juvenile halls and a network of seven rehabilitation camps from Malibu to San Dimas.

Last week, for example, three football players from the Los Angeles Chargers visited Central Juvenile Hall with their coach, Anthony Lynn, in an effort to inspire the youths there.

Mitchell said the department has moved to adopt a more therapeutic model for the youth in the system by eliminating solitary confinement, relying less on institutional incarceration and enabling more home-like settings for supervision.

The soft approach means nothing if the adults are not willing to follow through on consequences as needed. Taking away resources to deter bad behavior only invites more bad behavior.

Ford said officers no longer have the option of penalizing youths for acting out, such as by limiting their activities in common areas or reducing their allotted time for outside calls. The department only recently began seeking new charges against youths for assaults, he said.

No kidding! Just like parents lose complete control of their children when they do not discipline them.

Given the conditions, Mitchell praised the work of the detention officers and their supervisors during the transition, which has been complicated by the recent retirements of several longtime senior managers, she said.

“Our staff, they really care,” she said. “Each and every day, they come in with an attitude of how we make it better for our children and our community.”

Members of the Board of Supervisors have been aware of problems in juvenile detention facilities for some time. In addition to voting for funding a comprehensive study and voting to phase out the use of pepper spray, last year they launched the Probation Reform and Implementation Team, which has for months held hearings about the department’s use of force, staffing, finances and other issues.

The Board of Supervisors are a part of the problem. They have no business trying to micromanage a country facility when they don't have the slightest idea what they are doing. It's all political, social justice warrior nonsense to them. There is nothing good that can come out of any of that.

Led by Saul Sarabia, a consultant hired by the county, the team is expected to unveil plans for a permanent new civilian oversight panel that will replace Gardner’s Probation Commission. The team is also synthesizing recommendations from years of reports about the troubled system to draw up a reform plan to guide the newly created commission.

Another commission? Really?!

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, a leader on juvenile probation issues during a decade on the board, said his hope is that this latest effort will solve the department’s challenges.

“I have not seen as much tumult as is currently being witnessed,” he said. “It makes the case for substantial change being warranted.”

Substantial changes that allow probation officers to do their jobs, that would be a good start. Of course, that would be too easy a solution. They can't have that! Instead of doing what is best for the kids and the staff, the Board of Supervisors will look for some method, some madness to push more progressive madness, one that will reward bad behavior, put the needs of criminals ahead of the well-being of the entire community, and ensure that trial lawyers and liberal interest groups get everything they want.

For now, Gardner said he hopes his letter prompts management to transfer more staff from other facilities and to continue training for those learning to do their jobs without tools such as pepper spray.

He said he remains hopeful that the system can function better, making it easier to help the kids avoid a lifetime of crime.

“We don’t want them to recidivate,” Gardner said. “The commission has always been focused on the humane care and treatment of those who are in the care of the department — all with the main goal of giving the kids the tools they need so they don’t return to the system or the adult system.”

Final Reflection

Once again, I am glad that I am no longer a teacher. I am glad that I no longer have to deal with the political hustle and bustle of these terrible programs. the dysfunction of distant, unaccountable leadership, and the folly of implementing "progressive" social policy which rewards bad behavior and does nothing to promote good.

I still recall some of the very self-satisfied substitute teachers who were working in Los Padrinos, who were convinced that no matter what would happen in the economy, they could always count on finding work at the juvenile halls. It's pretty shocking that even such "essential" facilities like the juvenile halls would end up getting closed. Of course, there are left-leaning activists who have wanted to shut down jails, prisons, and abolish the police, too. Their vision is a utopian fantasy, which will give way to dystopian nightmares imperilling the lives of the innocent and law-abiding.

The kids were taking over the asylum, and no one ended up safe. Now the asylum is getting closed down.

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