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November 16, 2006 - The NewStandard (US)

Feds To Probe L.A. Juvenile Detention Conditions

by Catherine Komp

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

The US Justice Department will reinvestigate conditions at Los Angeles County's juvenile detention centers six years after it found dangerous conditions, inadequate mental-health services and a lack of educational programs there.

"It's been patently evident to people who have monitored this area of probation, that our system was failing," said LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky at a supervisors meeting this week.

"This goes back a number of years -- that our system was just plain broken in every way, shape and form. And this county, in that period of time, was oblivious to it."

The Justice Department's (DOJ) 2003 report on LA County's juvenile system concluded some conditions in detention centers violated the constitutional rights of young people.

Investigators found poor sanitation, inadequate medical and mental-health treatment, and an ineffective grievance system for those who were mistreated.

In some cases, researchers found unnecessarily long detentions. In one instance, a 17-year-old with "hyperactivity disorder" and "mild mental retardation," who was charged with loitering, was kept in a juvenile hall for a year.

The report also found excessive and unnecessary use of physical restraints and pepper spray on young people. In one incident, staff pepper sprayed a prisoner for sobbing and threatening to kill herself.

The Department issued 66 recommendations that LA County should implement at "a minimum" in order to improve conditions at the centers. David Grkinich, a county Probation Department director, told the LA Times that many of these changes have been made, including an increase in staff.

Yet problems persist. In April of this year, LA County's Children's Planning Council, a government agency focusing on reforming children's service programs, released a 49-page report on the juvenile detention system.

The report found poor data collection efforts and inadequate mental-health care. It also found a lack of support for families to effectively navigate the juvenile judicial system.

Little is known about the upcoming DOJ investigation. At an LA County supervisors meeting this week, some local leaders expressed concern that discussions about the investigation were happening "behind closed doors."

Some 20,000 youth spent time in LA detention centers in 2003, the latest year data is available, according to government figures analyzed by the Children's Planning Council.

© 2006 The NewStandard

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