LONG BEACH — Police have announced a series of changes they will make in an effort to meet a judge's order to segregate abused and neglected children from adult prisoners and juvenile offenders at the city jail.
Such children have traditionally been held in a room adjacent to the fourth-floor jail in the Public Safety Building.
Under a plan announced by police last week, abused and neglected children will now be held in a room on the other side of the building. Carpenters are now completing work on the new room--formerly an employee lounge--and should be finished in early March, police said.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Warren Deering ordered the city last month to move the fourth-floor holding room because of its proximity to the jail and a booking area. He also ordered police to make changes to shield juvenile offenders from adult prisoners.
Deering ordered the changes at the request of the Public Justice Foundation in Santa Monica and the Youth Law Center in San Francisco, which have filed a lawsuit against Long Beach seeking to keep police from housing youths in an adult jail. Trial is set for Sept. 8.
The two legal groups have argued that more children are held in the Long Beach jail than in any other lockup in the state. They have cited studies showing that more than 4,000 youngsters a year are processed and temporarily held in the city's jail.
About a third of those are abused, abandoned or neglected children who have not been charged with any offense, lawyers from the two legal groups have argued. For them to be held in such a facility at all is "uncivilized and inhumane" as well as a violation of California law, which prohibits detaining children in contact with adult inmates, the lawsuit says.
Abused and neglected children are kept in a fourth-floor holding room--an area containing a television, books and toys--for a few hours while police arrange for transfer to foster homes or other facilities.
Juveniles accused of crimes are kept in a detention facility on the same floor, which also houses the women's jail. The men's jail is on the top floor of the six-story structure.
Deputy Chief William Stoval, who oversees operation of the Long Beach jail, said several other changes are also planned to meet the judge's order.
Taken on Public Elevator
All youths except those who are violent or under the influence of alcohol or drugs will enter the building through an employee entrance and be transported to the fourth floor on a public elevator, shielding the youths from any contact with adult inmates. In the past, youths were transported upstairs on the jail elevator that is used by adult prisoners.
Youths accused of crimes will not be booked when an adult prisoner is in the area. Police will also be sure to clear all corridors of adult inmates when juveniles are being transported from one part of the building to another, Stoval said.
Stoval said police will, as Deering ordered, separate male youths charged with crimes from those who are so-called status offenders--curfew violators, truants and the like--by two empty cells in the juvenile jail. One empty cell will be maintained between female youths. Stoval said the new arrangement would not create any difficulties.
Security officers will take care to keep jail trusties, who serve food and clean cells, from coming into contact with juveniles, Stoval said. Department policy has always been to forbid contact between youths and the trusties, Stoval said, but security officers apparently had grown lax in enforcing the requirement.
While police officials considered placing neglected or abused children with the county or private agencies, they eventually concluded that continuing to hold them at the department would be best, Stoval said.
Private agencies either were unsuitable or could not accept children on a 24-hour basis, he said.
The county's facility for abused and neglected children, McLaren Hall in El Monte, is a 68-mile round trip, Stoval said. Transporting children there was deemed unpractical since the youths are generally turned over to a parent or a foster home in Long Beach in a matter of hours, he said.