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Jailing of Juveniles Examined

Supervisors seek alternatives for teens held in men's facility while awaiting trial.

June 25, 2003|Greg Krikorian and Jean Guccione | Times Staff Writers

The Los Angeles Board of Supervisors on Tuesday directed several county departments to report back in one week on alternatives to jailing dozens of juveniles in the Men's Central Jail who are being tried as adults.

The action was taken at the urging of Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who cited "serious concerns" by the state Department of Corrections, local clergy and others about living conditions at the 44-bed jail.

In a motion adopted by the board, Yaroslavsky noted that state law allows teenagers tried as adults to be held in adult jails if their conduct at Juvenile Hall "creates a danger to public safety or is detrimental to other inmates."

In Los Angeles County, the supervisor said, 34 of 148 minors being tried as adults are in a special unit at the men's jail, which is run by the Sheriff's Department. The others are held at Juvenile Hall, which is run by the county Probation Department.

While minors have been held at the adult jail for years, the conditions of their confinement have recently drawn attention from groups including Human Rights Watch, a New York-based organization that investigates human rights abuses worldwide.

Several groups have raised specific concerns about two recent suicide attempts at the jail, where minors are confined up to 23 1/2 hours a day in their cells -- longer than some inmates on California's death row. Critics say no other county in California detains juveniles in such conditions, and, last year, Los Angeles County jailed twice as many minors in this fashion as the rest of the state combined.

"Clearly, this is a very unique group of juveniles," Yaroslavsky said Tuesday. "They are being tried as adults. They are the most dangerous to themselves and to their neighbors at Juvenile Hall. And they pose a very serious [security] problem."

But in the last several days, Yaroslavsky said, he has been contacted by the staff of the state Department of Corrections. Yaroslavsky, a member of the department's nine-person board, said corrections officials offered to help the county find a more suitable facility for minors.

The supervisor said it was clear to him that state corrections officials have some issues with the way the minors are housed at the men's jail. "And when they tell me they have concerns, I think we should listen," Yaroslavsky said.

Last week, the head of the San Francisco-based Youth Law Center said the public-interest law firm was investigating the juvenile facility for possible legal action. State Sen. Gloria Romero, the Los Angeles Democrat who heads a committee on the correctional system, convened a closed-door meeting of state and local officials on Friday to serve as a prelude to hearings, probably next month, on the juvenile unit at the Men's Central Jail.

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