A teenager sits in a class at a youth facility in Lakeside, Calif., on Jan. 27, 2005. (Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
A California bill that could direct hundreds of millions of dollars to the juvenile justice system in Los Angeles is one step away from becoming law—but opponents of the bill argue that legislators should instead focus on reforming the system’s policies that allegedly harm the youth.
Assembly Bill 695
—introduced in February by Assemblywoman Blanca Pacheco (D-Downey)—would give the Board of State and Community Corrections the ability to give state grants to a “county of the first class”—defined as having a population of more than 4 million—for construction improvements to the county’s juvenile facilities. Los Angeles County is the only county in the state with over 4 million people.
The bill passed the state Legislature in mid-September and was sent Sept. 21 to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has until Oct. 14 to sign the bill into law.
Ms. Pacheco, along with supporters of the bill, said that the current state of some juvenile facilities is “hindering” workers’ ability to provide adequate care to rehabilitate youth.
“The Los Angeles Probation Department’s juvenile detention facilities are badly outdated and in need of critical renovations,” she stated in a bill analysis. “In their current state, LA Probation facilities are not adequate to meet the basic state law requirement of a ‘homelike’ environment much less meet the current care-first, intensive rehabilitation model that juvenile justice requires ... this measure exposes an honest and blunt truth: the tools and facilities are hindering the ability to provide the care these kids deserve.”
Though the bill does not give a cost estimate, a Senate Appropriations Committee fiscal analysis estimated it could cost $1 billion.
The exterior of a Southern California probation department in a file photo on Jan. 25, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
The bill is sponsored by the Los Angeles County Probation Officers Union who called the current facilities “dilapidated” and “prison-like.”
“We strongly believe that [Department of Juvenile Justice] youth should only have to be in these facilities until new ones are constructed,” the union stated in a bill analysis. “They are dilapidated, prison-like, and unsuitable for our collective vision to rehabilitate troubled youth and young adults. Nevertheless, we are doing our best with what we have, but our mission to provide second chances for youth and young adults in a trauma-informed, care-first setting is severely compromised with the current facilities.”
The bill has also garnered support from several other probation officer and police unions—including the Los Angeles County Probation Managers Association, the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, the Coalition of County Unions and the Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Association.
However, opponents of the bill point out that the Board of State and Community Corrections shut down
two Los Angeles County juvenile facilities in May over failed inspections, including inadequate safety checks, inadequate staffing, use of force, and a lack of programs, recreation, and exercise.
The Pacific Juvenile Defender Center—along with several youth justice advocacy groups such as ACLU California Action, the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, and the Children’s Defense Fund—argued that the bill does not address the “root cause” of issues with the juvenile justice system.
“For the last decade, the youth advocacy community has been fighting to address and highlight Probation’s oversized budget and well-documented abuses related to punishment-based practices,” the center argued in a statement in a bill analysis. “The egregious physical, sexual and emotional abuse committed by Los Angeles County’s juvenile probation officers and supervisors has been well-documented.”
The center called on state officials to instead focus their legislative efforts on reforming the justice system by eliminating abuse within the system.