DOWNEY, CA - JUNE 29: Aerial view of Los Padrinos Youth Hall in Downey on Thursday, June 29, 2023.  (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

In 2019, Los Padrinos Youth Hall in Downey was closed after six probation officers were charged with assaulting teenagers. But it will reopen this month after the state Board of Control ordered most youths out of L.A. County’s two remaining juvenile prisons. (Allen J. Cockroaches/Los Angeles Times)

The last time Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall housed some of Los Angeles County’s most disadvantaged youth, it was mired in scandal and called obsolete.

Two months before county officials locked the doors on the Downey facility in July 2019, Prosecutors charged six probation officers A man who worked there for pepper spraying teenage girls. It was part of a broader series of excessive force allegations that led the California Attorney General’s Office to file a case against the LA County Probation Department for surveillance.

Read more: LA County orders state to remove nearly 300 youths from ‘unfit’ juvenile hall.

But later this month Los Padrinos will reopen – something of a last resort After the State Board of Control He ordered most youths out of LA County’s two remaining juvenile facilities due to staffing problems. Reports of a long decline in conditions And one An 18-year-old boy has overdosed on drugs.

In the year On July 23, as the troubled agency tries to save itself after years of turmoil, the Probation Department will now be located at Central Juvenile Hall in LA and the Barry J. Niedorf Hall must relocate the 277 juveniles arrested to Downey.

While most juveniles must be removed from Central and Niedorf halls because the Probation Department does not meet California State Board and Community Corrections (BSCC) guidelines, youth charged with serious and violent offenses remain in secure juvenile treatment facilities at Niedorf and the Kilpatrick campus in Malibu. BSCC does not have jurisdiction over these approximately 75 youth.

Los Padrinos represents a partial reset for the department and new boss Guillermo Vieira Rosa. But some observers worry that the move to Downey will do little to alleviate the department’s core issues.

Young women walk away from the camera, along the wall of the building.

In the year Inmates are escorted to probation in the library at Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey in 2016. (Patrick T. Fallon/The Times)

Milinda Kakani is a member of the LA County Probation Commission and Director of Juvenile Justice Policy at the Children’s Defense Fund. She said the BSCC took action against Central and Neidorf because of ongoing staffing problems, which will almost certainly follow the department to Downey.

“If we look at the violations that lead to closings, most of them … are related to the institution that runs the facility,” she said. They don’t have. Everything is related to the department.

Probation executives, contractors and members of regulatory bodies, including the LA County Board of Supervisors, have been granted access to Los Padrinos in recent weeks. However, the department did not allow The Times reporter to visit the facility. County officials have declined requests for records of the complex’s location and construction, citing safety concerns.

Fecia Davenport, County Executive; They spoke Regulators said last month that the $117 million renovation was proceeding at “breakneck speed.”

Read more: An 18-year-old boy died of an overdose at LA County Juvenile Hall

The Los Padrinos complex consists of 36 buildings covering 26 acres, but only a few of the buildings are used to house juveniles, said Carla Tovar, communications chief for the Probation Department. There are nine dormitories, classrooms, a library, a large outdoor recreation area and a gym, she said.

The facility has 442 beds, which is significantly more than the number of youth currently in custody in LA County. Youths are transferred in small groups, but Tovar declined to provide any details, citing public safety concerns.

Those at the Downey Institute recently gave positive, if angry, reviews. Kakani said she’s impressed with the amount of green space in Los Padrinos, especially since she’s concerned about the lack of recreational opportunities for youth in Central and Niedorf.

“It’s definitely not what I’d call a five-star hotel,” said supervisor Kathryn Barger, who visited the facility recently. But I can tell you that it is completely renewed. “

Supervisor Janice Hahn, whose district includes Los Padrinos, said the facility, which most recently served as a shelter for young women, now appears to be a “summer camp” with a library and a spacious gym.

A minor girl is caught in a youth hall and reads a book.

A girl reads a book in the library of Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in 2016. (Patrick T. Fallon/The Times)

More than half of the youth transferred to Los Padrinos live in individual restrooms, according to Supervisor Lindsey Horvath’s office.

On a recent visit to Niedorf, Horvath said young people are often denied access to bathrooms due to staff shortages.

“So instead of going to the bathroom, a towel is thrown in their room to use the sink in their room,” she said.

But there are concerns about the department’s ability to properly operate the large area.

About 620 officers have volunteered to transfer to Los Padrinos, but about half are restricted by medical reasons, said Kevin Woods, acting chief of the Bureau of Correctional Services.

At a Probation Oversight Committee meeting last month, Woods said staffing shortages could again hamper the agency’s ability to get young people into the classroom.

The department is required to regularly transport juveniles to school, according to a settlement agreement with the California Department of Justice. Court records show that court officials recently asked the supervisor not to implement that provision until Aug. 31. The request was not accepted.

Read more: State regulators will give LA County more time to fix dysfunctional youth centers

“If we have a significant recall problem that we have right now, yes, it will certainly hinder our ability to get them to school,” Woods said.

Woods said he hopes more workers will start showing up at Los Padrinos because more workers will feel safer coming to work and many will now have shorter commutes.

“Because these individuals were allowed to compete in Los Padrinos – because they wanted to move to Los Padrinos – we think we will see a large number,” he said.

The department will assign 362 officers to Los Padrinos, Tovar said, and 116 officers will be housed in a secure youth treatment facility.

Hans Liang, president of the union representing probation officers, said safety remains a major concern among those going to Los Padrinos, especially after the department banned officers from using chemical spray when the Downey facility reopened. As a result, Vieira Rosan said he has called for more self-defense and officer training.

“Our concern is that they are taking away an effective tool if used properly,” Liang said. “So if you’re taking that, what are you going to give us?”

Personnel issues continue to plague Niedorf and Central. Weekend shifts are often understaffed, sometimes short by a dozen officers, making it difficult for youths to get visits from relatives or even leave their rooms, according to documents reviewed by The Times and interviews with several probation officials.

The officials requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media and fear retaliation.

On June 25, Niedorf required staff assistance for all shifts today, including visiting, according to an email reviewed by The Times.

“Due to staff shortages, we need approximately 35 full-time officers to assist us,” the email said.

β€œIt’s still very scary. They are dying for staff every weekend,” said a senior examination official, adding that “an entire shift of officers” has been off duty at the Central in recent weeks.

Juvenile halls are currently staffed by 895 officers, down from 1,018 in June 2021, according to data from the Probation Department.

Tovar said the department is “reinforcing our efforts to address call-outs and other unnecessary absences.” She said individual cases are being reviewed, resulting in disciplinary action or termination of officers who consistently miss shifts.

There are concerns about the department’s ability to be transparent with regulatory agencies that oversee Los Padrinos operations.

In mid-June, Vieira Rosa ordered all probation officers to cease contact with the attorney general’s office or the BSCC, although they are still allowed to report “potential violations of the law” and meet with supervisory staff who visit probation facilities.

“We are asking probationers to provide their comments and suggestions to the agencies (via county email addresses) – but in no way will it prevent them from participating with CALDOJ representatives during site visits or reporting potential violations of law to either agency,” Tovar said.

LA County Inspector General Max Huntsman and the state attorney’s office declined to comment.

Despite Viera Rosa’s order, BSCC spokeswoman Tracy Cohn said an inspector was still able to work with probation staff to make sure the hall was ready on time. The district passed its final building inspection in late June and will begin moving youth in.

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This story appeared first Los Angeles Times.

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