Detention Officer Reports ‘Chaos’ at L.A. Juvenile Center

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The detention officer’s email described “chaos” in a Los Angeles County’s juvenile detention center. Her words were desperate, describing unruly, violent youth and fed up detention officers, enough to prompt a surprise visit by Joe Gardner, president of the county’s volunteer advisory panel, the Probation Commission, reports the Los Angeles Times. Inside the Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall, he found shattered windows, smashed walls and tiles ripped from the ceilings. Phones in common areas were busted and debris lay scattered on floors. Gang graffiti had been scrawled on the walls. The staff was overwhelmed. “I was stunned,” Gardner said of the facility, where about 200 youths are housed behind a  red-brick wall topped with circular barbed wire. “Some of the damage appears to have taken time to do. It appeared there really wasn’t the oversight that there needed to be.”

Officers argue that their workplaces are becoming more violent, and data back that up. Internal reports and photographs show how dangerous and dysfunctional the  county’s youth detention operation has become. The probation department is facing serious problems, including bursts of violence among detainees, plummeting officer morale and headaches from closing several facilities. Six officers were charged with child abuse and assault over unreasonable use of pepper spray on teenagers. “We have way more than enough staff. The problem is people aren’t coming to work because they are afraid,” said Stacy Ford of the rank-and-file union, AFSCME Local 685. Officers have become reluctant to restrain youths to control tense situations, allowing eruptions that have led to injuries or property damage. Officials downplayed reports of chaos. “Are you going to have incidents? You absolutely are,” said Deputy Chief Probation Officer Sheila Mitchell. “When we do, we respond quickly. We make sure that the children and the staff are in good stead.”

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