The U.S. Justice Department will investigate dangerous conditions at Los Angeles County probation camps for teens, reports the Los Angeles Times. The probe comes after years of federal scrutiny of county juvenile halls, and could lead to a lawsuit or consent decree. Supervisor Gloria Molina alluded to problems with use of force and restraints of inmates. “You don’t pop somebody in the face just because you had a bad day,” Molina said of probation officers. She described the investigation as “very troubling” and expressed surprise at the Justice Department’s planned oversight. “I was sort of shocked by it because I thought we had been doing better.”
The Probation Department, which houses about 4,000 teenagers across the county each day, has grappled with growing violence among inmates. Youthful offenders stay for short periods in three juvenile halls while their cases are adjudicated; convicted teens serve their sentences in 19 rural probation camps scattered across the region. There were 2,630 youth-on-youth fights in the camps last year. A county study earlier this year found the Probation Department lacking in mental-health support, compiling data on youth inmates, education, and aid to teens’ families.