Despite continued community opposition — particularly in Santa Clarita — the county Board of Supervisors advanced plans Tuesday to house and provide rehabilitative services to juvenile offenders at a trio of probation camps, rejecting a proposal to convert a troubled youth hall in Sylmar into a centralized facility.
Following a debate that featured a heated exchange between board chair Holly Mitchell and Supervisor Kathryn Barger, the board voted 4-1 — with Barger dissenting — to designate camps in Malibu, Santa Clarita and Commerce as “Secure Youth Track Facilities” for juveniles who would have previously been sent to state youth prisons.
The state is closing those facilities next year, diverting offenders to individual counties for housing.
Mitchell and Supervisor Sheila Kuehl introduced the motion recommending that male offenders be housed at Camp Kilpatrick in Malibu and Camp Scott in Santa Clarita, with female offenders held at Camp Kirby in Commerce.
Their motion envisions facilities that are focused on treatment, education and re-entry programs to help rehabilitate youth offenders, rather than simply incarcerating them in a juvenile hall.
In their motion, they wrote that youth being sent to the facilities “are vulnerable and profoundly in need of alternatives routed in harm repair, healing and preparation for their future when they return to the community.”
“The current systems of incarceration only perpetuate the harms they experienced because they are foundationally built out of punishment and isolation,” they wrote. “In creating an alternative model that comports with Youth Justice Reimagined, we can work towards ending system involvement for these youth.”
The proposal for housing the offenders at the trio of youth camps, however, has met with significant community opposition, particularly in Santa Clarita, where residents and city leaders blasted plans to use the currently vacant Camp Scott.
Santa Clarita Mayor Laurene Weste and Councilwoman Marsha McLean both called into the virtual board meeting to oppose the proposal, backing instead Barger’s proposal to renovate the Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar to become a centralized location for holding and treatment of juvenile offenders.
McLean called the Nidorf proposal “the fastest, safest and most cost-effective solution,” noting that the location was recommended by the county’s own Probation Department as the best option.
Weste said Camp Scott was in “dilapidated” condition that would be in need of extensive upgrades to house youth offenders.
“It would be prudent of you to act upon the recommendations made by the subject-matter experts within your own probation department and designate Barry J. Nidorf to serve juvenile serious offenders,” Weste said.
Other callers, however, criticized Santa Clarita’s opposition, with one saying it is “rooted in NIMBYism and racism.” A retired county probation officer told the board it is “beyond my imagination that anybody would consider a motion that would suggest” the use of Nidorf hall to house the youth.
The Nidorf facility has been much-maligned, even labeled by state regulators last year as “unsuitable for confinement of youth.” Board members on Tuesday referenced complaints about Nidorf, including persistent lockdowns, the lack of rehabilitative services and even maggots in the food.
Barger, however, passionately pushed for the use of Nidorf as the county’s Secure Youth Track Facility, noting that the county is already planning to overhaul the compound in response to the concerns raised by state regulators. She insisted it could be turned into a centralized location serving as both a pre-disposition holding facility and post-disposition SYTF offering rehabilitative services.
Barger — whose district includes Santa Clarita — pointed to a report issued in early February by the county Probation Department, which also recommended using Nidorf as the SYTF location for youth offenders. The department noted that recent community meetings held to consider other sites resulted in “significant opposition.”
“My motion is not my recommendation — this is a recommendation that came from subject-matter experts that we as a board collectively hired to bring forth recommendations,” Barger said.
She said that over the past few years, “this board has adopted an unfortunate trend of not listening to experts and shopping for answers.”
At one point as Barger was speaking, Mitchell interrupted her and told Barger she needed to focus her comments only on the other camp sites, since they were the ones being considered in the motion under discussion. But Barger persisted. When she finished, Mitchell admonished her, prompting an angry retort from Barger, who accused Mitchell of trying to control the comments of board members.
Kuehl eventually urged calm, asking her colleagues to take a deep breath.
Kuehl said Nidorf “has become like an adult prison,” and called it unsuitable for prolonged housing. She also criticized those who have characterized youth offenders as “animals who cannot be rehabilitated.”
Kuehl called Camp Scott in Santa Clarita an ideal choice for housing because it is vacant, already has single-person rooms and can be quickly renovated and upgraded. She rejected the description of the property as “dilapidated.”
Under the motion approved by the board, probation staff was instructed to develop a plan for renovating the three camps and report back in four months with a plan for doing so. Under the motion, the county’s Nidorf and Central juvenile halls — both of which have come under fire from state regulators for lax conditions — would be used only to house youth awaiting disposition in court or transfer to other facilities.
On Friday, state regulators again lashed out at the county over conditions at the Central Juvenile Hall, and all youth held there were moved over the weekend to Nidorf.
Supervisor Hilda Solis and Kuehl introduced a motion — expected to be debated later Tuesday — calling on staff to develop a plan for the closure and demolition of Central Juvenile Hall.
Barger called it “ironic” that the board would consider such a move after members’ comments about the unsuitability of Nidorf.
“Perhaps the most ironic part of today’s vote is that although the board rejected Nidorf as a viable site, it will nonetheless still explore its suitability to house all pre-adjudicated youth as part of a movement to close Central Juvenile Hall, doubling Nidorf’s population,” she said in a statement.