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Criminal Justice

LA County Supervisors Approve Plan To Move Incarcerated Children To Camps

Nine young men, all with their backs to the camera, walk along an asphalt surface in front of a fence at a juvenile incarceration camp.
Camp Kilpatrick in a screenshot from a promotional video posted to a county social media account.
(Photo courtesy of L.A. County)
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The L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to move youths incarcerated for serious crimes previously held by the state to Campus Kilpatrick in Malibu, as well as Camps Scott in Santa Clarita and Dorothy Kirby in Commerce.

The plan is a response to the state’s move to close its Division of Juvenile Justice by next year. Chief Probation Officer Adolfo Gonzales told supervisors that Campus Kilpatrick could be ready to house incarcerated youths as early as May.

The county’s probation oversight commission voted to support the motion last week.

The county spent $53 million to build Campus Kilpatrick with the goal of providing therapeutic and small-group care to incarcerated youths. But the campus has struggled in recent years with understaffing and a lack of programming.

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The vote was 4-1, with Supervisor Kathryn Barger dissenting. She introduced a competing motion that called for DJJ youth to be permanently housed at Barry J. Nidorf facility in Sylmar — an idea widely supported by residents of Malibu and Santa Clarita and opposed by criminal justice reform advocates. It was voted down 4-1.

Supervisors also approved a separate motion 4-1 on Tuesday to conduct a feasibility study to explore closing Central Juvenile Hall, an aging and dilapidated facility.

The probation department submitted a proposal in February to develop a permanent space at Barry J. Nidorf for youths who committed serious offenses, which Barger cited in her motion.

Objecting To ‘Going Against Subject Matter Authorities’

In explaining her votes, Barger said, “[m]y objection is not to the population that's going to be placed. My objection is to going against subject matter authorities who are telling us that they feel that Barry J. Nidorf is the appropriate placement with modifications.”

In January, LAist reported that an imposter posing as a medical professional had gained access to Barry J. Nidorf and took COVID-19 "'swabs'" from youths there, according to the L.A. County Public Defender’s office and the Probation Department.

Last July, the Board delayed voting on a motion to move DJJ youth to Camp Scott or Kenyon, citing the need for a comprehensive assessment. Camp Scott closed in 2020 because of declining numbers of incarcerated youths assigned to camps.

Supervisor Holly Mitchell pointed out that it has been several months since the board put off voting on the matter.

“We must move with urgency,” given that the county will have to absorb more youths who would previously have gone to state facilities, she said. “We have a sacred responsibility to provide all of the youths under the county’s care with the appropriate services that meet their needs,” Mitchell said, adding that she has serious concerns about Barry J. Nidorf.

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Supervisor Shelia Kuehl, who co-authored the motion passed Tuesday, sent a letter to residents in and around Malibu last Thursdayoutlining the plan. She wrote that the number of juveniles moving to Kilpatrick would be “gradual, starting with a handful and never exceeding more than a few dozen.”

Kuehl called the safety of both incarcerated youths and people in the surrounding communities “a very high priority,” and said her staff is working with architects to oversee renovations “and that work will include a determination regarding whether additional security is needed.”

She also said that mental health professionals, educators and community-based service providers were being tapped for programming and youth support services.

‘I Love My City Councils, But…You Are Wrong’

Malibu’s mayor Paul Grisanti declined a request to comment on Kuehl’s letter.

Santa Clarita Mayor Laurene Weste called in to the supervisors’ meeting to oppose using Camp Scott to house incarcerated youths, calling it “dilapidated.”

Camp Scott’s closure and condition “offers very little, if any, of the necessary amenities and infrastructure needed to adequately protect and rehabilitate serious juvenile offenders,” she said.

“I love my city councils but I have said to them, 'I don't care. You are wrong,'” Kuehl said later, referring to local opposition to the move.

A caller who identified himself as Minor said he had been formerly incarcerated at both Barry J. Nidorf and Campus Kilpatrick and supported the plan to move youths to the latter.

Speaking of Kilpatrick, he said “it did not look nothing like a prison, you know, and I feel like that's the goal.”

A History Of Trouble

L.A. County’s juvenile halls have been under fire in recent years for failing to comply with state safety mandates.

In 2018, the California Department of Justice launched an investigation into L.A. County’s two juvenile halls and found the county “provided insufficient services and endangered youth safety,” citing an excessive use of pepper spray as one issue. The county subsequently phased out the use of pepper spray.

Just over a year ago,former California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced a settlement with L.A. County to improve conditions in the juvenile halls.

Last September, the California Board of State and Community Corrections determined thatthe county’s juvenile halls were “not suitable” to house minors, and gave the county 60 days to improve conditions. In November, the board said the facilities were again acceptable, but expressed concern with the length of time kids were locked in their units.

“The County should not invest in creating new jails or new systems of punishment for youth,” wrote Delos Moore in a written comment provided before Tuesday’s board meeting.

“As someone who spent 14 years incarcerated, I can confidently say that punishment, oppressing people, dehumanizing, and simply putting them in cages and confinement does not address the root causes of any problem and issues,” Moore wrote. “We need to invest in real solutions and comprehensive answers.”

What questions do you have about criminal justice in Southern California? 
Emily Elena Dugdale covers smaller police departments around Southern California, school safety officers, jails and prisons, and juvenile justice issues. She also covers the LAPD and the L.A. Sheriff’s Department.