In the wake of a recent case of alleged staff brutality by a Los Angeles County Probation Department staff member, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas today called for a review of all so-called critical incidents involving youth at Probation Department facilities over the past three years.
Last week, Witness LA first reported the account of an alleged assault of a 14-year-old at the county’s Central Juvenile Hall at the end of May. According to a written account provided to the website, the handcuffed boy was allegedly choked by a senior member of the Probation Department staff, causing bystanders to call the Los Angeles Police Department to the scene.
This is the second time in recent months that an alleged incident of brutality by Probation Department staff has come to light. In June, footage of several staff allegedly beating a youth housed at the Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar was leaked, prompting an investigation by the Los Angeles County District Attorney.
At today’s Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting, Ridley-Thomas described an accounting of violent incidents involving youth at juvenile detention facilities as “a piece of the larger puzzle of reform.”
“It is a priority of the board that those who are in our custody and care are treated as they should be, consistent with the law and consistent with basic principles and practices of decency,” Ridley-Thomas said.
The county has made efforts to change policies and practices for the approximately 1,200 youth at its three juvenile halls and 13 camps. Last year, the county emerged from federal oversight of its juvenile detention facilities after the Department of Justice reported mistreatment of youth by staff members and frequent violence at the camps and halls.
The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion presented by Ridley-Thomas that instructs Interim Chief Probation Officer Cal Remington, Chief Attorney of the Office of the Independent Monitor Cynthia Hernandez, Director of the Office of Child Protection Michael Nash, County Counsel and the Chief Executive Office to report back in three months about the types and prevalence of abusive incidents over the past three years.
In an interview with The Chronicle of Social Change. Ridley-Thomas said that the county needs to more quickly adopt protocols for the way staff interact with youth in its juvenile-justice system.
“The board is of the view that more needs to be done that is up to date with current thinking on rehabilitation and re-entry, rather than thinking that is old school and paramilitary,” he said.
“Rehabilitation through a lens of trauma-informed practices has to be the order of the day.”
Cyn Yamashiro, a longtime juvenile-justice advocate who also serves on the Los Angeles County Probation Commission, hailed the board motion as a way to promote institutional accountability.
Information from the Probation Department about incidents involving the abuse of youth in the county has not always been timely, he said.
“My hope would be that the [Probation] department would be out in front and acting in a way that is transparent and tells the public that there is a reason for the public to trust the folks who are in charge,” Yamashiro said. “I can’t quote Louis Brandeis precisely, but sunlight is the best disinfectant. Accountability as a result of the transparency is critical to make sure these things don’t happen again.”