An insider at the LA County Probation Department told me their colleagues are being beaten up, cut, spat on, and stabbed. This employee paints a grim picture of life inside the county's juvenile detention centers and camps. Probation officers are in charge of maintaining the safety and security of kids who have appeared in juvenile court and then serve their sentence in one of the county's juvenile halls or camps. Historically, these probation officers have had the tools and resources to not only maintain order within the juvenile facilities but also the programs to help counsel the kids, educate them, and work to extract them from the prospect of a life in crime.
The insider says the LA County Board of Supervisors (BOS) refuses to replace probation officers who have retired, quit, been fired, or have gone on extended medical leave. Instead, this insider maintains the BOS wants to dismantle the entire juvenile detention infrastructure in favor of a reformist model being pushed by activists, the current District Attorney, and juvenile reform sympathizers on the BOS. Further, the informant outlined a 'follow-the-money' scheme where friends of the BOS and others would financially benefit from new programs and nonprofits aimed at reforming at-risk youth. I cannot list the names the informant provided because I cannot independently confirm any corroboration. The Department of Youth Development was created in July of 2022 and the county says it was started to "support the development of young people in Los Angeles County by coordinating and building capacity for a wide range of youth development services, opportunities, supports, and other care-first efforts with a goal of equitably reducing youth justice system involvement." The insider says eventually probation officers will be out of the juvenile justice business.
A board member with the union representing the probation officers told me that just a few years ago there were roughly four thousands probation officers. As of January there are approximately two thousand. And a lot of those officers are on medical leave.
During our discussion I asked the informant about the recent announcement that State Attorney General Rob Bonta's office had filed legal papers to force the county to comply with a 2021 ruling regarding the improvement of conditions and procedures inside the juvenile halls. The informant laughed and said, "Think about it. Bonta has friends on the BOS and all he's doing is speeding up the closure of the facilities in favor of this new care-first approach at the Department of Youth Development. It's all connected!"
Perhaps one of the most disturbing developments revealed in our conversation, aside from the brutal attacks on officers, was the new infusion of adults in the LA County Juvenile Halls. The source says men as old as twenty-five are being transferred from state prison to the county's juvenile facilities because of state prison reform laws. So, when you mix young adults from a prison culture with juveniles at an impressionable age it's a recipe for disaster. He says the county's probation system is overburdened and officers cannot keep up with the influx of state prisoners. He also says because of the county BOS hiring freeze the department has to pull probation supervisors from the field to help in the juvenile halls and camps. And that takes oversight away from an already overtaxed operation.
Our conversation lasted about forty minutes and in that time I could tell how the probation officers have become tired and frustrated with the lack of support form the county. My source says while the number of officers dwindles the number of inmates, juveniles and adults, continues to climb. The officers are not armed and the BOS wants to ban all use of OC Spray (oleoresin capsicum), also known as pepper spray. OC Spray is about the last thing officers have to protect themselves and inmates from violent behavior. The source says the kids inside the juvenile halls are well aware of policies implemented by the current DA, George Gascon. A directive sent out to county probation makes it clear an inmate inside a juvenile detention facility will not be charged with future crimes while in custody. So, the juveniles responsible for the destruction of county property seen in the photos in this article cannot be punished.
My source also pointed out the hypocrisy inside the Juvenile Hall system. For example, the source points out programs which existed years ago like the culinary program and fire camp have been defunded. So, when the BOS and other critics point their finger at probation and say "These kids do nothing more than sit around and play video games all day, that's why they aren't getting the services they need..." the source says "Yeah, they aren't getting the help they need because the board took away the funding to keep these programs afloat." Some of the probation officers use their own money to buy deodorant, lotion, and shampoo for the kids - the hygiene items provided by the county are the same as those inside the adult jails; some of the kids need special items because of things like sensitive skin or hair conditions. The officers even buy board games and other items to create some sort of activities that take them away from the TV.
As we wrapped up our conversation my informant told me the dysfunction inside the county's juvenile services system is palpable. "When we get these kids at 14-years-old they've usually had 14 years of bad parenting, bad role models, maybe poverty, and lack of solid education. And these nonprofit groups that are supposed to be intervening in the early stages of a kid's life are not getting the job done. So, by the time they commit a crime and come to me they are in need of services that we are not equipped to give them. And you can thank the LA County Board of Supervisors for that."