Los Angeles County Supervisors on Tuesday, April 5, turned down a push by Supervisor Kathryn Barger to permanently close Camp Kenyon Scudder, a Santa Clarita juvenile detention site she says is no longer viable.
Supervisors Sheila Kuehl, Hilda Solis and Holly Mitchell registered “no” votes on Barger’s motion, which would have triggered the permanent shutdown of Scudder, a 74-year-old site in Santa Clarita that was closed in 2019 because of issues related to its structural vulnerability.
“I am extremely surprised and disappointed with the outcome of today’s vote by the Board of Supervisors,” Barger said in a statement. “Their failure to approve my motion to close Camp Scudder directly conflicts with the very policies they have claimed are backed by science and best practices.”
On Friday, Barger — fresh off a contentious debate in March over the future of where young offenders should be housed in the county — couched her motion in the context of a larger effort toward decarceration and rehabilitation over an emphasis on imprisoning people.
“We must reduce the number of County sites that detain youth in environments that aren’t focused on rehabilitation,” Barger said in a statement. “Our Board has made a commitment to support a ‘Care First’ vision for our youth. Let’s permanently close this site, which cannot deliver on that promise.”
She leaned on supporting comment from Nicole Vienna, a member of the Juvenile Justice Realignment Block Grant Subcommittee.
“I personally have worked with juvenile justice youth in County operated camps as a mental health professional,” Vienna said in a statement via a Barger press release. “I can attest to the fact that Camp Scudder was a very challenging environment. Space was lacking and security breaches were common. I fully support Supervisor Barger’s motion to close Camp Scudder. Our youth deserve a setting that is both rehabilitative and secure.”
Barger’s motion cited a feasibility study last year by the county’s Juvenile Justice Realignment Block Grant Subcommittee, which found that the site was a “non-feasible” site for secure youth track offenders — those that need to be housed longer and cannot be housed at the county’s two juvenile halls, which officials say are not equipped for longer term housing.
Where to move such young people is an acute issue for county officials, who are seeking to accommodate the state’s determination that as of July 2023 the California Department of Juvenile Justice will cease its operation of secure juvenile facilities. Young people housed for more serious crimes will be dispersed to county facilities.
And that has the county moving to figure out where to house secure and track offenders — a process that that has raised the ire of local residents.
Back in January, La Verne and the Santa Clarita Valley residents on Wednesday slammed a possible plan to house Los Angeles County’s most serious juvenile offenders in their communities.
In La Verne, Camps Joseph Paige and Clinton B. Afflerbaugh had been on a short list of county sites to house youths.
Camp Glenn Rockey in San Dimas was previously considered as an alternative site.
In the San Gabriel Valley, the cities of San Dimas, Glendora, Claremont and the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments all sent letters to the county opposing the juvenile youth relocation.
Similarly, communities in the Malibu area and in Santa Clarita have pushed back.
But proponents of re-purposing the camps point to conditions that are not sustainable in the current youth incarceration system.
The point to the intersection of the juvenile justice system and the development of children’s brains.
In Roper v. Simmons, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 the Court held that under the Eighth Amendment’s “cruel and unusual punishment” clause, the death penalty for offenders under 18 was unconstitutional.
The court turned to the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society,” setting off a wave of case law, informed by the neuroscience of young people’s developing brains, as a factor in considering allegations of unjust juvenile punishment.
As it stands, local young offenders who would usually be sent to the state facilities are right now being housed at the county’s Juvenile HallSylmar facility, which has drawn ire of critics and inmates for what they say is an often troubled and chaotic environment.
A state probe found numerous abuses and unsafe living conditions at the site, prompting the board and state prosecutors last year to settle abuse claims. The settlement required the county to make changes to improve safety at two juvenile halls in Sylmar and downtown L.A., and six youth camps around the county over four years. Moreover, the county was to appoint an independent monitor to track whether those changes are being implemented.
In March, the Board of Supervisors clashed over whether to repurpose the Sylmar facility or the camps, exposing a fissure in the board’s efforts to re-imagine the county’s aging, broadly criticized incarceration system.
Supervisors approved 4-1 a motion by Mitchell and Kuehl that would create what officials called “Secure Youth Track Facilities” at three locations — Camp Kilpatrick in Malibu and Camp Scott in Santa Clarita for male offenders and Camp Kirby in Commerce for female offenders.
Last month they approved a feasibility study looking at whether those facilities could become longer-term sites.
Kirby is in Barger’s district. Kilpatrick is in Kuehl’s district.
But Barger — echoing pushback from residents in Malibu and Santa Clarita — was the lone dissenter. Her unsuccessful counter-motion sought to designate a revamped Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar to serve young inmates.
Ultimately, Barger on Tuesday said the Board’s pushback to her motion was inconsistent with the broader goals of “care first” rehabilitation approach to those housed in the county system.
“Today’s vote demonstrates lack of consistency and follow through on that commitment,” she said. “To make meaningful change, our board cannot speak out of both sides of its mouth.”