L.A. County juvenile halls have become overwhelmed by chaos and violence, and staff members often call in sick because they’re afraid to come to work, it was reported Monday.
Juvenile Hall officers have long argued that their workplaces are becoming more violent, and data backs that up. But internal reports and photographs obtained by the Los Angeles Times show just how dangerous and dysfunctional Los Angeles County’s youth detention operation has become.
The L.A. County Probation Department is facing a series of serious problems, including bursts of violence among detainees, plummeting officer morale and the organizational headaches from closing several detention facilities. Six officers also were recently charged with child abuse and assault over the unreasonable use of pepper spray on several teenagers, putting even more political pressure on the department to stop using it by the end of the year.
“We have way more than enough staff. The problem is people aren’t coming to work because they are afraid,” Stacy Ford, a veteran detention officer and an executive on rehabilitation camp issues for the rank-and-file union, AFSCME Local 685, told The Times.
In recent months, the department has acknowledged large fights involving multiple youths, including one last month at Camp Rockey in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. In that incident, young detainees engaged in two separate fights, requiring staff to call in reinforcements to help restore peace and supervise the facility, the department said. Two staff and one detainee required medical attention.
In March, a female detainee leaving a court facility in Compton began to kick the seats and windows of her transport van. The officers struggled to control her, and she repeatedly spat on them. When one officer tried to block the flying saliva, the youth lunged forward and bit the officer’s hand, breaking the skin. She continued to kick, yell obscenities and resist. The officers had to repeatedly call for assistance en route to their destination.
In April at Central Juvenile Hall, three youths refused to enter their rooms after eating, delaying a second group’s entrance into the food hall for dinner. At the same time, officers reported they could sense tension coming from the second group related to a previous incident, in which one youth refused to hold a door for another. An officer tried to cool the tension. But they refused to calm down and words involving “gang activity” were exchanged. The officers eventually had to use an upper-body restraint to keep the enraged youths apart.
Such incidents occur almost daily. When they do, detention officers say the recent backlash over the use of force inside the facilities, including an overreliance on pepper spray, has made them increasingly worried about being subjected to internal discipline. Over time, officers have become reluctant to physically restrain youths to control tense situations, allowing eruptions to occur that have led to injuries or property damage.
“There are no consequences for the negative behavior,” Ford said.