Two Saugus camps that are intended to house L.A. County’s violent juvenile offenders would need major security improvements in order to do so, according to a report from the Sheriff’s Department to the Board of Supervisors.
The sheriff’s review was conducted in response to the plan to bring juvenile offenders to Camp Joseph Scott and Camp Kenyon Scudder in Bouquet Canyon, which were originally designed only to house non-violent offenders. The Santa Clarita City Council has raised concerns about public safety and a lack of community input on the plan, while probation officials say the camps suit the new therapeutic programs they plan to house there.
In addition to a number of other security problems, the camps have an ease of access to the outside world through a chain-link fence that will allow for passersby to look in on, talk to and even hand contraband off to those inside, the Sheriff’s Department report said.
The plan, first announced May 27, was met with the ire of community residents, City Council members and Supervisor Kathryn Barger. On Tuesday, City Council members called for city staff to draft a letter expressing their concerns about the plan and objecting to the lack of opportunity for the city and the community to have input on it.
A number of residents testified at the council meeting Tuesday that they were surprised by the move and concerned about its impacts on public safety, property values and traffic in Bouquet Canyon.
Officials from the L.A. County Probation Department said questions on why the community was not consulted would need to be directed to the Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council’s Juvenile Justice Realignment Block Grant Ad-Hoc Subcommittee, which developed the plan.
A presentation of the draft plan, involving the JJCC’s Community Advisory Committee, is set to take place in a livestreamed meeting 2 p.m. Thursday, June 24. Members of the public are invited to address any agenda item for the meeting by submitting a written request to the Probation Department before the item is called.
The county Board of Supervisors will make the ultimate decision on whether to follow through with the recommended plan.
The committee was formed as part of a statewide realignment of the juvenile justice system created by Senate Bills 92 and 823, which ultimately call for the state’s juvenile facilities to be closed by 2023, leaving local jurisdictions responsible for housing youth offenders who previously would have been in state custody.
Officials from the office of Supervisor Hilda Solis, who sits on both the JJCC and the county Board of Supervisors, did not return requests for comment as of the publication of this story.
Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) youth are currently housed at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, pending transfer to the state. As of Wednesday, there are 249 offenders in the county’s Detention Services Bureau at the juvenile hall and 133 in the Residential Treatment Services Bureau’s county-run camps.
Beginning July 1, 2021, the male youth will be placed at Campus Kilpatrick in Malibu and would be transferred to the two camps in Saugus after the renovations for a small group model environment have been completed, if the plan receives final approval.
In a report published on June 7, the county Sheriff’s Department said the facilities each have the capacity to house approximately 100 juvenile offenders.
However, LASD officials listed a long list of reasons for why the facilities, in their current state, are not suitable to house the planned population of juvenile offenders, from the single-chain-linked fence allowing those inside the camp to see out and passersby to see in; that there was no barrier between the public and juveniles, allowing both to approach the perimeter fencing undetected and unimpeded; and the ease by which the housed youth would have access to contraband, such as weapons and drugs, through the fence.
“In the current state, it is (LASD’s) determination that neither of these facilities could safely house the intended population,” according to the report from the Sheriff’s Department to the Board of Supervisors.
Additionally, sheriff’s officials said the layout of the facilities, such as the close proximity to the loading dock at Scott, and the lack of locks and alarms on dorm room doors, are some examples of why these facilities were meant originally to house only non-violent juveniles. Both facilities previously were used to house non-violent offenders.
The sheriff’s report said there would be a need, if/when violent offenders are housed there, to invest in supplemental perimeter fencing and monitoring/detection measures in order to ensure the safety for surrounding communities.
Officials with the Los Angeles County Probation Department, which would run the camps, said they believe the camps are in “good shape,” but said in order to start the new program they will bring in a third party to assess the needs.
“We plan to bring in an outside expert to work with us on improving both the environment and the security of the sites,” said Karla Tovar, a spokeswoman for the Probation Department. “Until we have recommendations from them about what is possible, it is difficult for us to know how significant the changes will need to be.”
Tovar said the Scott and Scudder camps would provide “the space and environment for operation of the ‘L.A. model’ small group therapeutic programming.”
“Therapeutic interventions and youth development have the best chance of success in an environment where the youth and others feel safe and calm and where they are cared for by trained professionals who genuinely care for the youth,” Tovar said. “That said, this is a program that will continue to evolve, and it will be monitored closely and adjusted to make sure it is achieving the outcomes we expect.”
It is unclear how many juvenile offenders would be housed at the two facilities, but officials said they will begin, once construction is finished, streaming in one at a time as their cases are resolved in the system.
The JJCC Community Advisory Committee meeting is open to the public and scheduled to begin Thursday at 2 p.m. To join the meeting, visit https://probation.lacounty.gov/juvenile-justice-coordinating-council/. Instructions for making public comment are listed on the first page of the agenda.