The 4,000 minors incarcerated by Los Angeles County Probation officials are forced to eat meals that fail to meet basic nutrition requirements, according to information released Tuesday by county Supervisor Mark-Ridley Thomas.
The county's public health inspectors repeatedly found that the meals did not meet state requirements for minimum caloric value and fat content and that officials did not hire a dietitian to oversee the meals' nutritional value.
Additionally, the inspectors found that vegetarians were not provided special meals and that probation staffers did not comply with medical diets ordered by doctors, according to reports provided by Ridley-Thomas.
"The denial of adequate nutrition is tantamount to the denial of human civil rights," Ridley-Thomas said. "It is pretty fundamental in a democratic society that people are entitled to food, clothing and shelter."
Kerri Webb, a spokeswoman for the Probation Department, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Ridley-Thomas said he became aware of the situation during conversations with some of the youths during one of his surprise visits to the county's juvenile camps and halls.
"They volunteered it, so it was near the top of their mind," said Ridley-Thomas, noting that he later assigned the issue to staffers who found that officials had failed to address a stack of neglected noncompliance reports for facilities throughout the department.
On Tuesday, Ridley-Thomas persuaded fellow supervisors to call for Probation officials to report back within 30 days on the cost per meal and a plan to bring the department into compliance with state nutritional guidelines.
Ridley-Thomas also won approval for another 30-day report that will detail any breakdowns in the way Probation officials coordinate services for incarcerated youths with other county departments .
County officials want agencies such as the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Children and Family Services to coordinate with Probation, but the regulations for doing so are often difficult to understand.
Ridley-Thomas said the resulting confusion could be blamed for some of the problems the department is having in providing consistent psychotropic drugs and mental health counseling when a youth moves from the jurisdiction of one department to another.
"It's not a particularly pretty quilt that is being stitched together by these departments, and we have to better coordinate," Ridley-Thomas said.