LA County Supervisors to Debate Housing of Youth Offenders

Criminal girl hands locked in handcuffs. Close-up view

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors today will again debate the best location to house juvenile offenders who previously would have been sent to state youth prisons but will now be housed locally due to the closure of California's juvenile justice facilities.

And the debate is likely to be lively, with two competing motions offering divergent ideas of where and how such youth should be housed.

The board debated the issue last year but couldn't come to a resolution, particularly with Santa Clarita residents vocally opposing a proposal to house some of the youth in that community. Earlier this year, a group of La Verne residents pleaded vocally for the board to scrap any idea of housing the youth at two juvenile camps -- Afflerbaugh and Paige -- in that city.

The debate stems from the state's plan to shutter its juvenile justice facilities next year, providing funds instead to individual counties to house them. Local youth offenders who would ordinarily be sent to the facilities are currently instead being housed at the county's much-maligned Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar.

On Tuesday, Supervisors Holly Mitchell and Sheila Kuehl will push their motion to create so-called ``Secure Youth Track Facilities'' at three locations -- Camp Kilpatrick in Malibu and Camp Scott in Santa Clarita for male offenders, and Camp Kirby in Commerce for female offenders. Their motion envisions centers that are focused on treatment, education and re-entry programs to help rehabilitate youth offenders, rather than simply incarcerating them.

In their motion, they wrote that youth being sent to the facilities ``are vulnerable and profoundly in need of alternatives routed in harm repair, healing and preparation for their future when they return to the community.''

``The current systems of incarceration only perpetuate the harms they experienced because they are foundationally built out of punishment and isolation,'' they wrote. ``In creating an alternative model that comports with Youth Justice Reimagined, we can work towards ending system involvement for these youth.''

In hopes of reassuring residents of Malibu that transforming Camp Kilpatrick would be a safe move, Mitchell and Kuehl sent an ``open letter'' to the community late last week, attesting to the safety of the proposal and noting that the influx of youth offenders would be gradual, ``and never exceeding more than a few dozen.''

``The safety of the staff and young people at Campus Kilpatrick, as well as surrounding communities, is a very high priority,'' they wrote. ``We are currently working with architects to oversee needed renovations and that work will include a determination regarding whether additional security is needed.''

Their motion asks that the board designate the three camps for further exploration as SYTF facilities, instruct its probation staff to develop a plan for renovating the facilities and report back in four months with a plan for doing so. Under their motion, the county's Barry Nidorf and Central juvenile halls -- both of which have come under fire from state regulators for lax conditions -- would be used only to house youth awaiting disposition in court or transfer to other facilities.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger, meanwhile, has introduced a motion of her own, asking that all youth once bound for state facilities be housed at a renovated Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar. The motion notes that due to previous issues with operations at the facility, the juvenile hall is already set to be overhauled to address ``the concerns plaguing the facility for years.''

She said the already-planned renovation makes the facility the ideal site for housing and providing treatment for the youth offenders, and it already has the capacity to house all such offenders.

``There is no better time than now for the county to recommit its investment in both our youth as well as a facility that has and will continue to serve youth for generations to come,'' Barger wrote in her motion. ``The county has a truly unique opportunity to transform (Nidorf) facility to be a national model where trauma-informed services, with real cognitive treatment spaces and programs can be delivered to the youth who can develop the skills needed for successful re-entry into the community.''

She pointed to a report issued in early February by the county Probation Department, which also proposed using Nidorf as the SYTF location for youth offenders, noting that recent community meetings held to consider other sites resulted in ``significant opposition.''

The report offered two proposals -- one to renovate part of the existing campus for SYTF youth and one to build an entire new facilty, with part of it dedicated to SYTF. Barger's motion supports the first option.

The Probation Department report concludes that the Nidorf proposal ``offers options that are more feasible'' than the other proposed locations.

``Selecting (Nidorf) as the SYTF site would reflect us leading to move youth justice reimagined forward in a manner that works best for all those potentially impacted,'' according to the document.

Barger's motion calls for the board to designate the Nidorf proposal as the best option and direct staff to develop an implementation plan and report back to the board every 90 days on progress.

Supervisor Hilda Solis, meanwhile, introduced a motion asking that the county officially remove the Paige and Afflerbaugh camps in La Verne from consideration.

She and Kuehl also introduced another motion calling on staff to develop a plan for the closure and demolition of the county's other juvenile detention facility -- Central Juvenile Hall -- which has also been criticized by state regulators for poor conditions.

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