Incidents Involving Use of Force at Juvenile Halls in L.A. County Nearly Doubled in Seven Months

The number of cases involving staff use of force at Los Angeles County juvenile halls has risen over the past seven months, according to information presented at a meeting today of the Los Angeles County Probation Commission.

A motion from Probation Commissioner Cyn Yamashiro requested the Probation Department to provide data about the incidents involving the use of force at the county’s three juvenile halls: Central Juvenile Hall, Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar and Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey.

Overall, 55 incidents were reported in January, compared with 102 in July.

Use of force incidents has also increased at each of the three facilities since January. At the Nidorf facility, there were 23 such incidents in January and 32 in July. At the Central Juvenile Hall, incidents have nearly doubled from 20 in January to 39 in July. Incidents increased nearly three-fold at Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall to 31 from 12.

The average daily population for each juvenile hall is about 200, according to Scott Sanders from the Probation Department.

Scrutiny over the use of force incidents at facilities run by the Probation Department has been sparked in recent months by two separate incidents in which a Probation Department employee allegedly assaulted a youth in a juvenile hall.

On May 31, a supervisor allegedly choked a 14-year-old boy at the Central Juvenile Hall, and in April, several Probation Department employees allegedly beat  a youth, which was documented after video footage was leaked to WitnessLA.

Representatives from the Probation Department advised that use of force is a broad term that can encompass several different types of interaction. Every time a probation officer physically touches a minor at a juvenile hall, even if it is to step in and separate two youths having an altercation, that acts counts as a use of force and must be documented.

“If you touch a minor, you report it,” Sanders said.

Probation Department officials said that they were confident that the numbers were accurate and that appropriate safeguards remain in place to ensure that supervisors were reviewing all use of force incidents.

According to Sanders and Dave Evans of the Probation Department, supervisors review all use of force incidents reported by staff and are responsible for conducting a child safety assessment, which includes both a medical and mental health review for the youth involved in the incident.

Youth in the county’s juvenile halls are able to file complaints about unreported use of force incidents through the Probation Department’s grievance system, they said.

During the meeting, Probation Commissioner Yamashiro said he remained skeptical that the grievance process was adequately recording other use of force incidents not represented in the numbers offered by the Probation Department.

“I would caution using the grievance process as a way of auditing internally the frequency with which your officers are putting their hands on minors,” Yamashiro said. “In the time I’ve been a commissioner … the grievance process has been sorely lacking. We’ve done inspections where there haven’t been grievance forms on the walls, and we couldn’t find them anywhere.

“We’ve also taken statements from kids I believe in the past where they’ve felt that there was retaliation associated with filing a grievance My hope would be that moving forward is that department is would find ways to ensure that we’re not under-reporting and I don’t know that relying on the grievance process is a great way to do that.”

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John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change
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