By City News Service
Los Angeles County can make dramatic improvements in the way it treats juvenile offenders when it moves forward with construction of a modern probation camp, according to a policy brief released Tuesday.
"For too long, youth and families across L.A. County have been mistreated by a juvenile justice system that often does more harm than good," according to Michelle Newell, a Children's Defense Fund-California senior policy associate who co-authored the report. "We need a system focused on rehabilitating and improving the lives of young people, not one that drives them deeper into the cradle-to-prison pipeline."
The call for improvement came as the Board of Supervisors moved to accelerate construction of a $48 million probation camp to replace Camp Vernon J. Kilpatrick in Malibu.
The board approved a design-build contract, under which construction will take place while design is still under way -- a move that is expected to cut 15 months off the time line for the project. It has been in the planning stages for more than two years.
Demolition is scheduled to begin in March and the estimated completion date is June 2016.
The conceptual plan for the camp already moves away from a prison-like setting to a more therapeutic environment, but Newell and Jorja Leap, a UCLA Luskin professor of social welfare, recommended other changes.
They pushed for a "smaller, rehabilitative, home-like" layout with private bathrooms and common living areas for groups of 12 kids. Newell and Leap also urged the board to detain only those juveniles who present a "significant danger to the community."
"These ideas are not complicated, but they're vitally important," Leap said.
The county's juvenile justice system is the largest in the nation, detaining nearly 2,000 youth in three juvenile halls and 14 probation camps.