The Board of Supervisors returned via Zoom today to a subject it has wrestled with for quite some time – dramatic changes to the state and county’s juvenile justice system since the closure of the State’s Department of Juvenile Justice and all state-run juvenile facilities.
At issue in today’s Board meeting was again the proposal to transfer dozens of justice-involved male youths from the Barry J. Nidorf facility in Sylmar to new Secure Youth Track Facilities (SYTF), Camp Joseph Scott in Santa Clarita and Campus Kilpatrick in the Malibu Hills. Further, it would transfer justice-involved young women to the Dorothy Kirby Center in Commerce as their permanent new SYTF location.
Previous attempts to locate justice-involved youths in Santa Clarita have met with fierce resistance from local community and elected leaders. Last evening, the Malibu City Council expressed deep concerns over the transfer to nearby Camp Kilpatrick at their regularly scheduled meeting.
In speaking in support of continuing the transfer, Board Chair Holly Mitchell first provided some context to changes in the Juvenile Justice system in L.A. County. Citing that the thinking and neuroscience research has evolved over the years, she is proud of the fact that the county seems to have shifted to a more “care first, jails last” model. She then hit on the delay that’s been put on the transfer, saying, “It’s been almost a year since the Board delayed a decision on permanent facilities for the youth coming into the county’s care,” and stated that there has been plenty of time and “pretty exhaustive community engagement” on the matter. But in the interim delay, some youth she says have fallen through the cracks and not received the services they need.
Speaking to some community fears and public comments, Mitchell surmised, “Some people claim that young people convicted of the most serious charges can’t be housed in a camp. However, our camp facilities do house this population, and it’s problematic to assume that a prison-like facility is the only way to meet their needs as well as insure the public safety.” She later argued, “Every day that we delay the decision on where our secure track population should be housed, we place their health and safety at greater risk.”
Wendelyn Julien, Executive Director of the Probation Oversight Commission, joined the meeting to say that in a series of town hall meetings over the last year, a mix of the public that includes members of the Juvenile Justice Realignment Block Grant subcommittee (JJRBG) and people with lived experience in the juvenile justice system seem to all agree that, “Barry J. Nidorf is not an appropriate placement for long-term youth.”
Supervisor Kuehl, who admitted to being “hot under the collar by some of the ways our young people have been characterized and the people who have characterized them negatively,” questioned the legal standing of the Nidorf center as a permanent placement location, citing it as – at best – a traditional, short-term placement “juvenile hall.” She continued by saying, “But the fact that it has become like an adult prison … it is not a place where any of our young people should be kept for a prolonged period of time.”
Kuehl then turned to the importance of rehabilitation, reminding her colleagues that it’s required under state law in the Welfare and Institutions Code. “An individual rehabilitation [which] is required for each young person, even the ones who committed serious crimes.”
She then turned her ire toward the Probation Officer’s Union, who say says disgraced themselves by sending letters to various city councils within respective supervisor’s districts to warn them about juvenile-involved youth, according to Kuehl calling them “animals who cannot be rehabilitated.” She mentioned one council by name, saying “[Campus] Kilpatrick is in my district … my Malibu Council [is] being ginned up by the probation union to fear these young people. You know, they don’t want them either.”
Supervisor Hilda Solis then spoke to her amendment to close Camps Joseph Paige and Clinton B. Afflerbaugh in LaVerne as Secure Track campuses and to prepare them for “a more therapeutic, youth-centered culture of care” under the L.A. Model. Her largest concern was that juvenile-involved youth are languishing watching television and playing video games and not getting the services they need and have even asked for.
Supervisor Janice Hahn expressed a concern shared by some that Camps Kilpatrick and Scott are not currently ready for more violent offenders, and asked what more is needed to ready the campuses and on what timeline. Probation Chief Adolfo Gonzales answered, saying he’s visited the camps and has asked his staff to enhance nutritional options overall, and that at some fencing and lighting repairs at Camp Kilpatrick have been remedied. She also said that in the interim, improvements should be made at the Nidorf facility given the reality that many youths will remain there for an undetermined amount of time.
Supervisor Catherine Barger, the body’s only Republican, spoke in defense of her substitute motion slated for later on the agenda that the Nidorf facility remain the permanent home for serious-offending youths. She claimed to not consider her motion was to go against “subject matter experts that have told us” that Nidorf – with enhancements and upgrades – is where they should remain. “I do not believe it is accurate to say that Barry J. Nidorf cannot be considered,” she said with a defiant tone, before getting into some verbal warfare with Chair Mitchell over whether her comments were in order and a perceived lack of respect for her arguments.
The motion to approve the transfer passed, 4-1, with Barger in dissent.