A month after the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) gave a big thumbs up to Los Angeles County’s troubled juvenile probation camps, ending six years of federal oversight, the county’s own audit department went thumbs down in a big way.
Why the disparity of opinion?
Witness LAexplained—almost apologetic for the piece it had written a month earlier that recorded the jubilation at being in “full compliance” with the DOJ’s 73 reforms. The DOJ exit signaled that great strides had been made in fixing civil rights abuses and generally rancid conditions in the 16 camps housing juvenile offenders.
The Los Angeles County Department of Auditor-Controller, at the request of the county Board of Supervisors, has been concurrently auditing 23 of the 73 reforms. For its 12th report, just completed, it looked at seven of the more important 73 reforms to see if compliance had, indeed, been met. Sadly, six did not meet standards.
They had to do with rehabilitation and behavior management, child abuse reporting, suicide prevention and substance abuse. Most of the problems related to staff members not receiving the proper training to meet their responsibilities.
In one instance, they weren’t shown how to properly complete Safety Check Sheets for looking in on a kid in isolation with suicidal thoughts. Twenty percent of staff didn’t attend training for handling kids with mental illness and developmental disabilities. Twenty-three percent skipped training on reporting allegations of child abuse or neglect.
The auditor said he was at a loss to explain the discrepancies with the feds, partially because the Los Angeles Department of Probation, which runs the camps, “did not maintain sufficient documentation.”
When the Justice Department first got involved with the Probation Department in 2006, the camps were scandalously managed by a department in total disarray. The camps were rife with staff misconduct, excessive use of force and youth-on-youth violence. Efforts at suicide prevention and transitioning kids to the outside world were minimal, at best.
Rehabilitation was non-existent. The system was described as custody and control
Two years later, with horror stories pouring out about life in the camps, the county reached a formal agreement with the feds to clean up 41 areas of concern. The number grew as time dragged on implementing them.
Probation Department Chief Jerry Powers didn’t agree with four of the six problem areas cited by the auditor.