Overhaul Ahead: Relocating Troubled Youth from Unfit Juvenile Halls in LA County

Facing mounting concerns, the Board of State and Community Corrections has ordered the relocation of pre-disposition youth from two inadequate juvenile halls in Los Angeles County. The decision comes after years of failures, prompting a race against time to provide suitable care for these young detainees.

In a pivotal move aimed at addressing long-standing deficiencies in Los Angeles County’s juvenile justice system, the Board of State and Community Corrections has issued a mandate to relocate pre-disposition youth from two juvenile halls deemed unsuitable for their care. This decision follows years of scrutiny and recent inspections that unveiled multiple failures to meet state standards. Now, the county faces the daunting challenge of rapidly transitioning these vulnerable detainees to a more appropriate facility.

The Board of State and Community Corrections, left with no choice, declared the Barry J. Nidorf and Central juvenile halls unsuitable for housing pre-disposition youth. The facilities have been plagued by persistent shortcomings, leaving the board convinced that immediate action was imperative. Despite the county’s belated plans for an overhaul, which were deemed insufficient by board members, the order for relocation was resolute.

County representatives made a heartfelt plea to the board, requesting a 150-day extension to facilitate a smooth transition without compromising safety or causing chaos. The county’s proposed solution involved relocating pre-disposition youth detainees to the previously closed Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey. However, the plea for more time was denied, underscoring the pressing need for expeditious change.

Currently, approximately 275 pre-disposition youth—whose criminal cases are pending resolution—are housed in the Nidorf and Central juvenile halls. It is important to note that the order does not impact post-disposition youth housed in a Secure Youth Treatment Facility within Nidorf hall in Sylmar, while Central Juvenile Hall is situated in Lincoln Heights.

During a comprehensive presentation, county representatives outlined their ambitious efforts to transition youth out of the two inadequate facilities. Margarita Perez, a former assistant chief probation officer, spoke on behalf of the county, acknowledging past failures and underscoring the need for more time to minimize disruption for the youth, their families, and the dedicated staff. However, the board remained steadfast in its decision, recognizing the urgency for immediate change.

While disappointed with the imposed 60-day timeline, Interim L.A. County Chief Probation Officer Guillermo Viera Rosa acknowledged that the time had come to discontinue the use of these unfit facilities for housing pre-disposition youth. Assuring a systematic and seamless transition to Los Padrinos, Viera Rosa emphasized that the decision would not result in the release of hundreds of youth, debunking erroneous claims. The department remains resolute in resolving the more intricate issues of staffing and culture within the system.

This is not the first time the two juvenile halls have come under scrutiny. In 2021, the Board of State and Community Corrections declared them unsuitable for housing youth, yet the facilities managed to remain operational. Renewed inspection failures prompted the board to revisit the issue and initiate the process of declaring the halls unsuitable once again.

The challenges faced by Los Angeles County’s juvenile justice system are complex and far-reaching. Inadequate staffing has created a hostile environment, with youth-on-youth and youth-on-staff assaults becoming distressingly commonplace. The county’s Board of Supervisors has been striving to overhaul the troubled system while assuming responsibility for the transfer of youth from the state’s closing Juvenile Justice facilities.

Recent efforts, such as the approval of the “Global Plan,” aim to reduce the number of juveniles in custody and develop Secure Youth Treatment Facilities that provide a supportive environment for detained youth. However, the road to reform has been fraught with setbacks and criticisms from state regulators, highlighting ongoing issues with oversight and staffing.

With the clock ticking, Los Angeles County faces a pivotal moment in its juvenile justice system. The relocation of pre-disposition youth from unfit facilities within 60 days demands swift action, effective coordination, and unwavering commitment from all involved. The county’s ambitious plans for reform must be executed meticulously to ensure the safety, well-being, and future of these vulnerable detainees. The path to transformation may be arduous, but the future of youth in the system depends on the resolve of all stakeholders to bring about meaningful change.