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Locked up at Thanksgiving: Definitely not a holiday

Gregg Reese | 11/24/2010, 5 p.m.

Now that the holidays are upon us, efforts are in full swing to address the commercial aspect that is an intractable part of the season, underlining the hope that it may add ballast for the depressed economy that has become a staple over the past few years.

For some two million Americans the recession is not an issue, since they are behind bars. The financial burden and attendant stress it brings upon the rest of us is not a concern of the inmate who is guaranteed room and board (albeit not of the four star variety), yet incarceration brings with it a unique stress all its own, especially for impressionable youth.

In order to fully understand the dynamics of juvenile justice, it might be helpful to look at the concept of diminished culpability which leads to another concept that, like most legal terms has Latin roots, parens patriae. Briefly, this gives a governing entity (for the purposes of this article, the state of California, or either the county or city of Los Angeles) the right to intervene on the behalf of a child (and, in some cases adults), when their parent or legal guardian proves to be inadequate in the responsibilities of caregiving, typically through abuse or neglect.

For probationary minors, the reasoning goes that improper supervision encourages wayward youth to violate society's norms, or to be blunt, break the law.

To address this problem, two primary institutions are in place, the Los Angeles County Probation Department and the CDJJ or California Division of Juvenile Justice (formerly the California Youth Authority, or CYA).

On its website, the probation department boasts that it is the largest such department in the world with more than a century of corrective assistance to the county. Within its jurisdictional oversight are some 4,000 minors age 18 and under, within the three juvenile halls of its Detention Services Bureau, or its camps system under Residential Treatment Services.

As this article went to press, the department had begun a hiring spree (see OurWeekly, Oct. 6, 2010) as part of a larger effort to repair its beleaguered image following misappropriation of funding and federal criticism of juvenile supervision. About five years ago, the United States Department of Justice followed up on its negative assessment of the probation department by beginning close supervision of the quality of custody given to the wards in confinement. Specific attention is given to issues like the staff to inmate ratio, and availability of psychiatric assistance to youngsters in need.

First Person Remembrances
The cadre overseeing our youthful offenders are a hodge-podge of college educated civil servants with diverse backgrounds in chemistry, political science, and economics and other such subjects. Given our proximity to the entertainment industry, more than a few are also actors and musicians.

After earning a film degree from a prestigious local university, "Dave" found no prospective openings in Hollywood and gravitated to corrections as a way of paying off the tens of thousands of dollars in debt he incurred in the pursuit of his education. After his probationary period in the "halls", the former all California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) tight end's physique and skill at crowd control earned him a spot in a "Special Handling Unit" or "Shoe," where he shepherds an assortment of rapists, murderers, and miscreants who've had discipline problems in other units.