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Feds, County Reach Settlement Over Juvenile Halls

Conditions must be improved at the youth detention facilities, including use of force and medical treatment.

August 26, 2004|Andrew Blankstein and Zeke Minaya | Times Staff Writers

The U.S. Justice Department announced a settlement agreement with Los Angeles County on Wednesday to improve medical, educational and other services for youths at the county's three juvenile halls.

The agreement grew out of a federal investigation that began more than three years ago. That resulted in a report last year that criticized the juvenile halls for such things as the use of pepper spray and hogtying, lack of English translation services and failure to provide needed mental health treatment for days or weeks.

Investigators concluded that the conditions violated the constitutional rights of youths.

The investigation involved Los Padrinos Juvenile Detention Center, Central Juvenile Hall and Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall.

"This is a voluntary settlement agreement," Chief Probation Officer Richard Shumsky said. "The Board of Supervisors will be funding improvements and staffing at our detention facilities."

The Probation Department came under fire in 2000 after a grand jury found the juvenile halls substandard.

The grand jury found, for example, that employees frequently overmedicated youths, using up to 16 psychotropic drugs to treat depression, anxiety and mood disorders.

The federal probe began soon after the grand jury's findings.

Under the agreement, the Justice Department, the county and the Los Angeles County Office of Education, which offers classes at the juvenile halls, avoid litigation.

The agreement requires that juvenile halls be adequately staffed with mental health specialists. The county must train nurses on the side effects of psychotropic drugs, and nurses must document side effects. Also, the county must train all staffers in suicide prevention.

The agreement also calls for curtailing the use of pepper spray and force in restraining youths.

Shumsky said his department had been monitoring the use of force to ensure that it was used only when necessary.

"We have the same goals [as the Justice Department] to reduce force," he said. "We need to have adequate staffing so that situations can be ameliorated before force is necessary.

"But there are always cases when force will be necessary because we can't allow detained minors to hurt themselves or each other."

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