In a bleak corridor of the Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles, up to 44 teenagers spend up to 23 1/2 hours a day locked in windowless 4-by-8-foot cells, the Los Angeles Times reports. More confined than state inmates on death row, the juveniles, mostly 16 and 17, cannot watch TV or listen to radio. They sleep on inch-thick foam pads and eat meals alone in their cells while facing trial for such crimes as murder and carjacking. Some are accused of lesser violent crimes but are sent here after hurting or threatening others at Juvenile Hall.
Los Angeles County incarcerates twice as many minors this way as the rest of California combined. These teenagers are considered the most dangerous of the 150 or so juveniles who are being tried as adults at any given time in the county.
The situation is drawing the attention of clergy, politicians and New York-based Human Rights Watch, an independent, nongovernmental group that investigates human rights abuses. They cite two suicide attempts by teenagers in Central Jail last month as evidence that the conditions are intolerable. Carole Shauffer of the Youth Law Center in San Francisco, a public-interest law firm promoting the rights of juveniles, says, “I’ve been all over the country, and these are the worst conditions we have seen kids housed in.”