With a dwindling population of youth in its juvenile detention facilities, Los Angeles County will convert a soon-to-be-shuttered juvenile detention camp into a voluntary residential re-entry and vocational training center for so-called “disconnected youth” in the county.
According to the details of the plan, which were obtained by The Chronicle of Social Change, the program will be housed at what is currently Camp David Gonzalez, a detention camp 35 miles north of downtown Los Angeles.
Those eligible for the program would include youth exiting the juvenile probation facilities or county jails, transition-age foster youth, and youth experiencing homelessness. The target population is young adults between 18 and 25.
“There is a moral responsibility for us to look at all the services that will help them and better their lives,” said Sheila Mitchell, chief deputy of juvenile services for the Los Angeles County Probation Department.
Sixty young men are scheduled to participate in the first cohort of the three-year pilot project, which would be administered by a pair of community-based organizations and the Los Angeles Trade-Technical College.
While housed in a former correctional institution, the plan pledges that the program “will not mimic that of an institutionalized environment.” Youth in the program would be required to stay Monday through Friday, and would be able to leave the campus on weekends.
This would be a voluntary re-entry program, according to the plan. Any participant could withdraw and simply return home. But while in the re-purposed juvenile facility, participants would be subject to a strict set of program rules, including random drug testing.
In recent years, Camp Gonzalez has held between 50 and 60 young men, though that number has dropped in recent months after the Los Angeles County Probation Department scheduled it to be closed. The camp is currently hosting about 50 youth from Camp Afflerbaugh-Paige, who are staying there for a couple months while the county fixes a gas leak, Mitchell said.
In June, Mitchell presented a plan for the closure of six of the county’s juvenile detention camps because of declining numbers at the probation-run facilities.
According to data from the Board of State and Community Corrections, the average daily population for Los Angeles youth detention facilities in December 2016 was 1,112. That number is less than half of a similar count in 2011 and about a third less than it was in December 2006, when more than 3,400 youth were detained on a daily basis in the county.
That mirrors a similar trend in counties across the state, where many juvenile detention facilities are half full or nearly empty.
In November, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors signed off on a plan to help assist “disconnected” youth, those youth who are neither working or in school. That includes connecting youth on probation supervision and in custody at juvenile detention facilities and county jails with workforce services.
Dubbed “Conscious Transformation,” the camp conversion pilot project is imagined as a way to prevent future involvement with the criminal justice system: “Across California, individuals with low educational gains, poor home support systems, or criminal histories are often employed in low paying positions without adequate salaries and benefits and may engage in criminal conduct to simply survive.”
The goal would be to link youth to a pipeline of jobs in the county, including training for entry-level positions with county agencies and partners, including jobs with the L.A. County Fire Department.
The lead organization is expected to be the Culver City-based nonprofit New Earth Organization, which works with youth involved with the juvenile justice system at probation facilities and in community placements in Los Angeles and Orange Counties.
New Earth would provide life skills training and other support services.
Because the project would be run by a community-based organization and would not operate as a court-ordered program, Mitchell believes the county will able to attract many interested youth.
“We think that there are enough young people out there who are really yearning for a place that provides housing for them, provides stipends for them, where they can learn a trade and that there is guaranteed employment,” Mitchell said. “With those positive aspects, we think there a good number of young folks that will be interested.”
Mitchell said county agencies and nonprofit organizations are now working on a way to provide transportation to youth at the vocational center. Because of the large size of the county, some youth might be located up to two hours away from Camp Gonzalez, which is located in the isolated Calabasas area.
The county expects costs to top $3 million a year for the pilot project. Three county agencies — the Probation Department, the Department of Mental Health and the nascent Office of Diversion and Reentry — have agreed to chip in $1 million each, with more potentially coming from private foundations and state grants.
The Board of Supervisors is expecting to finalize the plans for the project in a board motion next month.