Xavier Becerra (257827)

Officials have entered into a groundbreaking settlement to improve the living conditions and education services for youth in Los Angeles County’s juvenile justice system.

The settlements between California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Los Angeles County, and the Los Angeles County Office of Education, which was entered into in mid-January, comes after a lengthy California Department of Justice investigation, which uncovered a serious need for reform.

“The need to shift the County’s youth justice system towards a developmentally appropriate rehabilitative paradigm and away from a punitive approach is needed more than ever,” said LA County Supervisor Holly Mitchell, who represents the Second District, which is home to unincorporated neighborhoods in South LA. “This settlement agreement presents an opportunity to strengthen accountability and bolster the work of transforming and reimagining youth justice.”

As a result of the investigation, the County of Los Angeles — including its Probation Department, Department of Mental Health, and Department of Health Services — and the Los Angeles County Office of Education have agreed to take a wide range of corrective actions, which will be overseen by an independent monitor and subject matter experts, aimed at securing positive outcomes for justice-involved youth and ensuring systemic improvements to the County’s juvenile halls.

“One of our core duties as a society is to lay the foundation for our children to build a better future,” said California Attorney General

Xavier Becerra. “That has to be at the center of what we do as government when youth are entrusted to our care. Our institutions must strive to build up the most vulnerable among us. Regardless of what got them there, our youth deserve a chance to prepare themselves to launch a better life. We cannot condone or ignore any system that allows our kids to be mistreated or dehumanized. I applaud the County for working with us to correct the wrongs uncovered by our investigation and committing to help these youth get the resources they need.”

Los Angeles County officials said their mission is “care first, jails last.”

Therefore, they have already decreased the population of incarcerated youth and undergone efforts to restructure the juvenile justice system to create a more health focused model. They also said they will eliminate the use of pepper spray in juvenile halls and have enhanced oversight of the Probation Department. In addition, the Board of Supervisors recently created the Alternatives to Incarceration Initiative to establish a human-focused approach to justice system engagement.

“For the past year, we have cooperated closely with DOJ officials. The findings of their investigation demand that we all do better for the young people in our care. We welcome the opportunity to strengthen systems of collaboration and accountability so we can more effectively deliver the high-quality services our youth deserve,” said Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools Debra Duardo.

In October of 2018, a DOJ investigation was launched to determine whether conditions of confinement for youth at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall and Central Juvenile Hall in Sylmar were in compliance with state and federal laws. The Attorney General’s Office conducted multiple site visits, interviewed more than 80 witnesses, and reviewed thousands of pages of documents. Ultimately, as alleged in the complaint, DOJ found that the County provided insufficient services and endangered youth safety, including, among other things, by relying on excessive and inappropriate physical and chemical use of force.

The investigation into the juvenile halls focused on use-of-force policies and incidents; room and solitary confinement policies and practices; the provision of rehabilitative programming, recreation, religious services, education, and medical and mental healthcare; access to and adequacy of grievance procedures; and staff training.

To address the investigation’s findings, DOJ and County authorities worked cooperatively to establish extensive four-year plans that provide for a number of corrective actions, which include better living conditions, limiting use of force, timely medical and mental healthcare and appropriate educational opportunities so students are ready to transition back to schools in their own communities.

Los Angeles County officials said they will continue to reform and reshape its juvenile justice system with the goal of providing holistic care to the young people it serves.