Thursday, February 14, 2019

California Juvenile Detention Centers Using Pepper Spray

juvenile detention
Pepper spray, like mace, is a non-lethal form of restraint that law enforcement agents utilize on a regular basis. The ingredients result in inflammation of the eyes and lungs, causing temporary vision loss and shortness of breath. Once disabled, officers are better able to restrain subjects. While the agent is less-than-lethal, there are instances when the chemical agent is a contributing factor in premature death.

In California, juvenile detention facility guidelines permit staffers to use pepper spray or oleoresin capsicum (OC) spray, only as a last resort to de-escalate difficult situations, Los Angeles Daily News reports. However, a new report from the Los Angeles County’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) finds that officers are relying on pepper spray to subdue juveniles at an alarming rate, often using the lachrymatory agent unnecessarily.

The report was conducted at the behest of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors (Board). The call for an investigation came after revelations brought to light last year that incidents involving oleoresin capsicum spray in juvenile detention facilities skyrocketed more than 150 percent from 2015 to 2017. The OIG report cites instances of juveniles being subjected to OC and are then left in their rooms without assistance, forced to rely on toilet water to clean/remove the oleoresin capsicum from their skin and eyes.

Initial or Intermediary Force Option


According to the report, thirty-five states have banned the use of OC spray in juvenile facilities. California is just one of six states that allow the use of pepper spray on youths housed in detention centers. Such facilities include Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall, Central Juvenile Hall, Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall, Camp Ellison Onizuka, and Camp Ronald McNair. There are California counties that prohibit juvenile detention officers from deploying OC, encouraging the use of other de-escalation techniques instead, i.e., San Francisco County, Santa Cruz County, Marin County, and Santa Clara County.

The OIG report underscores the need for more de-escalation training, especially in Los Angeles County. Cathleen Beltz, assistant inspector general, said the goal is to reduce or eliminate the use of OC within LA County’s juvenile facilities. The investigators found consistent use of OC spray as an “initial or intermediary force option, rather than as one that follows a failure to de-escalate or the use of less significant force.”

“The fundamental issue here is not about the tools that staff use,” said Terri McDonald, LA County chief probation officer. “The question is, how can we create a culture or environment in which force is a rarity?” 

McDonald adds that the department will not tolerate “unnecessary or excessive force in our facilities…A single case of abuse of our youth is one too many.” The chief probation officer is not opposed to doing away with the use of OC, “But a change of this magnitude will require thoughtful analysis, planning, training, and potentially increased resources to ensure institutional safety.”

California Juvenile Defense Attorney


As a former juvenile prosecutor, attorney Katie Walsh has the experience and understanding of the law to advocate for your son or daughter who is facing legal trouble. Please contact The Law Offices of Katie Walsh for a free consultation and to learn how she will use her expertise to defend and achieve a favorable outcome for your loved one.

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