Thursday, March 25, 2021

Groundbreaking Settlements Seek to Protect Youth in the Juvenile Justice System

groundbreaking settlements

Over two years ago, the California Department of Justice (DOJ) began an investigation into the conditions of confinement at two juvenile halls. Based on the results of that investigation, a settlement has been reached that will improve the conditions and education services in Los Angeles County's juvenile halls. The groundbreaking settlements seek to protect youth in the juvenile justice system in the county.

Extensive Investigation into Confinement Conditions

The investigation into the conditions of confinement began in October 2018. DOJ launched the investigation to determine whether the conditions for youth at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall and Central Juvenile Hall complied with state and federal laws. The Attorney General’s Office interviewed over 80 witnesses, conducted a number of site visits, and reviewed thousands of pages of documentation.

Confirming the allegations, DOJ found that the county did not provide sufficient services and, in fact, endangered youth safety. The investigation focused on the policies and incidents of use-of force, room and solitary confinement practices, access to grievance procedures, staff training, as well as rehabilitative programming, recreation, education, religious services, and mental and medical healthcare.

They found, among other issues, that the juvenile halls relied on inappropriate, excessive physical and chemical use of force. In an online news conference, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said that the investigation focused, in particular on the unnecessary use of pepper spray and on unreasonable periods of cell confinement that kept youths from receiving adequate educational services and medical care.

Groundbreaking Settlements

The settlements, announced in January 2021, were reached between Attorney General Becerra, Los Angeles County, and the Los Angeles County of Education. As a result of the DOJ investigation, the settlements focus on improving the conditions and education services in the county’s juvenile halls.

The Los Angeles County Office of Education and the County of Los Angeles, including its Probation Department, Department of Mental Health, and Department of Health Services have agreed on a wide range of corrective actions, to be overseen by an independent monitor and subject matter experts. These corrective actions are aimed at securing positive outcomes for youth involved in the justice system and at ensuring systemic improvements to the county’s juvenile halls.

Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools Debra Duardo, reflecting on the groundbreaking settlements, said, “We at the Los Angeles County Office of Education are passionate about our work and firm in our belief in the power of education to transform the lives of at-promise students in our juvenile hall schools. For the past year, we have cooperated closely with DOJ officials. The findings of their investigation demand that we all do better for the young people in our care. We welcome the opportunity to strengthen systems of collaboration and accountability so we can more effectively deliver the high-quality services our youth deserve."

A Four-Year Plan for Corrective Action

The most significant outcomes of the DOJ’s investigation and the resulting settlements are extensive four-year plans to protect youth in the juvenile justice system. These plans include corrective actions in a number of important areas, including:

  • Limiting the use of force and requiring de-escalation as well as outside oversight and review of incidents.
  • Enhancing holistic efforts to support youth through trauma-informed and positive behavior approaches.
  • Improving confinement safeguards and practices to ensure youth are not unlawfully confined to their rooms.
  • Providing necessities of basic living needs, including bedding, hygiene items, and appropriate access to the bathroom.
  • Ensuring that youths are housed in a homelike environment.
  • Ensuring that youth have timely and appropriate mental health and medical care.
  • Providing appropriate time for education and improving the process for youth who are transitioning back to school in the community.
  • Providing a trustworthy and secure method for youth in the juvenile justice system to have their problems properly addressed.
  • Facilitating the collection of data and the analysis necessary to demonstrate compliance with the settlements, allowing for adequate ongoing internal review.
  • Requiring sufficient training for staff and appropriate staffing for the juvenile halls to be able to comply with the settlements.

Regarding the investigation and the resulting groundbreaking settlements, Attorney General Becerra said, “One of our core duties as a society is to lay the foundation for our children to build a better future. That has to be at the center of what we do as government when youth are entrusted to our care.” Becerra added, “I applaud the county for working with us to correct the wrongs uncovered by our investigation and committing to help these youth get the resources they need.”

Orange County Juvenile Defense Attorney

Please contact the Law Offices of Katie Walsh if your son or daughter is in legal trouble or faces school expulsion. Attorney Walsh has the expertise to advocate for your loved one's well-being successfully. For a free consultation, call Katie Walsh at (714) 351-0178.