Los Angeles authorities seeking better opportunities for incarcerated youth

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Agencies for the rehabilitation of sentenced youth celebrated Tuesday that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to remove juvenile offenders from facilities such as Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall, considered harmful; permanent facilities to support its rehabilitation will now be explored.

These facilities include Camp Kilpatrick and Camp Scott for Boys and the Dorothy Kirby Center for Girls which are considered Safe Treatment Centers for Youth that would facilitate the county’s shift from a punitive to a restorative model.

The affected youth include those in California juvenile prisons, which are run by the state Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) and are scheduled to close permanently on June 30, 2023 following allegations of extreme violence.

Positive changes are urgent

Kent Mendoza, 28, said presenting opportunities and education is the right thing to do instead of just thinking about safety and confinement.

“No young person is going to come to you and say, ‘oh, being locked up I thought I want to be a doctor or I want to be a lawyer’ because they don’t have the motivation to become one,” Mendoza said.

He knows firsthand the destruction that these places cause to young people whose brains have not finished developing. He was in and out of correctional facilities for children between 15 and 20 years old and assured that those places only left trauma in his life.

Mendoza, who now works for the Coalition Against Recidivism (ARC), said he was 6 years old when he immigrated with his family to Los Angeles. He grew up in a home in the Pico Union area where there was no father figure and gang members became his best allies.

At the age of 14, the Mexican immigrant was already part of a gang. At age 15 he was first incarcerated in juvenile prison and sentenced to 18 months for a robbery offense.

His education, he said, was outrageous. They only had them literally copy the information from a book into their notebooks.

“How can a young man who is in that situation advance?” he questioned.

So once he was released and having learned absolutely nothing good or exemplary in the correctional facility, he only lasted a month before being thrown in jail again.

This time the trauma was greater, he assured, since he was locked in a part of the Barry J. Nidorf reformatory, where minors are sentenced as adults and are awaiting removal.

In that place the cells did not have a bathroom so when they wanted to use it they had to shout at the guard and wait until they wanted to come and open the door.

“But what happens when you can’t stand it, you have to take a bath in a towel or on cardboard right there in your cell and that’s not correct,” Mendoza said.

Additionally, his fun period was to watch a movie every day and nothing else. In this area known as the “compound” there was no longer even access to the mediocre education that she said minors received.

When he got out of prison, at the age of 20, he was homeless, uneducated, and it was the ARC who reached out to help him get ahead.

Kent Mendoza was in juvenile prisons from 15 to 20 years old. (Supplied)

Support

In May 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) would be closing.

This due to long-standing problems associated with the state juvenile correction system and the This due to long-standing problems associated with the state juvenile correction system; as well as the need to improve the rehabilitation of young people and redefine public safety, providing age-appropriate treatment and keeping them closer to their communities and families.

A recent report by the Parole Supervision Commission showed that juvenile prisons are in deplorable conditions and the treatment of young people is not appropriate.

Wendelyn Julien, executive director of the Parole Oversight Commission, said a week ago they voted to support the motion written by Supervisor Holly Mitchell and co-authored by Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

“The decision to support this motion was not made lightly; in fact, this topic has been on the agenda of the Commission’s ordinary meetings four times in the past year, we organized two public assemblies and participated in two other assemblies on the subject”, explained Julien.

Supervisor Hilda Solís explained that she supported the motion because the youth have been in limbo for a long time. She indicated that there are young people who are interested in opportunities such as education and vocational training but do not receive them.

“This is irresponsible and unfair to our youth,” Supervisor Solís said in a statement. “Scheduling should not wait until those in limbo at the Barry J. Nidorf facility have a permanent location to go to, but it must happen now.”

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl agreed with Solís, adding that there are also juvenile detention centers and permanent placements for juveniles in the same condition.

“Berry J. is a juvenile detention center. It is not a permanent location. It was never intended to be permanent, it is not designated as such, and it may not actually be legally so,” he said. “These halls have a courtroom in them. Not next door because they are meant to be places where young people get their disposition from the court.”

The approved motion directs several relevant County departments, including the Department of Probation along with the Courts and union partners to study the feasibility of closing the Central Youth Center and prepare a report within 120 days that includes timelines, costs and other information relevant to its closure and demolition.

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