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Criminal Justice

LA County Supes Vote to Curb Pepper Spray in Juvenile Halls (Again) After Report Shows 'Disheartening and Egregious' Use

A bar graph showing the number of pepper spray incidents per month from June to September 2022. Barry J Nidorf Juvenile hall is in blue, Central Juvenile Hall is in orange.
The breakdown of pepper spray incidents per month in the county's two juvenile halls.
(Courtesy L.A. County Probation Department)
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The L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to direct the Probation Department to come up with a plan to phase out pepper spray in certain housing units in Central Juvenile Hall.

LA County Supes Vote to Curb Pepper Spray in Juvenile Halls (Again) After Report Shows 'Disheartening and Egregious' Use

Supervisors voted nearly four years ago to ban pepper spray in the county’s juvenile halls — but that didn’t happen. In fact, the situation got worse.

In August, I reported that probation officers sprayed detained youths at the county’s two juvenile halls at least 409 times between June 2021 and June 2022. That’s an average of a bit more than once a day.

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We’re not in the mood to have any more excuses.
— Supervisor Janice Hahn

A report published last month from the L.A. County Probation Oversight Commission found that between June 1 and Sept. 30, youth were sprayed 232 times — almost twice the average rate of the previous year.

“The findings were incredibly disheartening and egregious as there was a documented increase in the substantial use of OC spray,” Supervisors Hilda Solis and Lindsey Horvath wrote in Tuesday’s motion.

The probation department has blamed a lack of training and alternatives to spray as well as staffing problems as one of the reasons for the increase.

“We’re not in the mood to have any more excuses,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn.

A brick wall is topped by barbed wire
Barbed wire on the fence enclosing Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall
(Emily Elena Dugdale

The probation department has 45 days to create and execute a plan to phase out pepper spray “at the housing units that incarcerate youth with developmental disabilities and girls and gender expansive youth” at Central Juvenile Hall.

Supervisors also voted to request that the L.A. County inspector general and the Probation Oversight Commission oversee the process and provide updates on the process every 14 days until it is completed.

The inspector general’s office will also track and collect data on staff who deploy pepper spray multiple times.

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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.