View Full Version : Just Came In Re Minors In County

07-06-2003, 12:56 AM
July 5, 2003
Keeping Kids in L.A.'s Adult Jails Is Shameful

By the Rev. William Epps and Rabbi Steven Carr-Reuben, The Rev. William Epps of the Second Baptist Church and Rabbi Steven Carr-Reuben, of Kehillat Israel Temple and president of the L.A. Board of Rabbis, are members of Faith Communities for Families and

The recent news accounts of the dehumanizing conditions under which juveniles are held in the Los Angeles County Jail confirm what we saw this year when we were part of a delegation that visited the Men's Central Jail: The youths are on lockdown up to 23 1/2 hours a day in windowless 4-by-8-foot cells, in conditions much worse than those experienced by some adult inmates on death row. Recent suicide attempts by two youths are the latest symptom of a problem that could end tragically if juveniles continue to be housed in the adult jail.

L.A. is one of the few jurisdictions in the state that holds youth in its adult jail - either because they are being tried as adults or because the prosecutor has requested their transfer based on the alleged offense. Most of the 30 to 40 minors held in the jail under the current law have not been found guilty of anything. Ultimately, many of them will be found guilty of less serious offenses, and some cases may be dismissed. Legislation to limit such transfers is pending in Sacramento.

We are concerned that the Probation Department uses "transfer to jail" from juvenile facilities as a way to get rid of "difficult" minors - people the department says have "earned county jail through misbehavior." Newspapers accounts of some of the misbehaviors include violation of rules against braiding another minor's hair and possession of "contraband" such as a tongue stud, money or small amounts of marijuana.

Sadly, many of the youths who are transferred are mentally ill, emotionally vulnerable victims of the very system designed to help them. Whatever their problems, the juvenile justice system needs reform as much as they do. The county Probation Department was recently forced to respond to a 49-page Department of Justice report outlining extensive civil rights violations in the county's juvenile halls, including a failure to meet the serious mental health and treatment needs of minors.

Our adult jails must not be used as a repository for the failures of the juvenile justice system. The young people we've met and seen in the jail unit will reenter our community at some point. The senseless inhumanity to which they are subjected will do little to prepare them for a second chance at a crime-free life.

The controversy and talk with officials over holding juveniles in the Los Angeles jails have been going on for nearly two years. These talks began after the community learned of the incarceration of two girls in the Twin Towers women's jail in the high-security unit, where their only human contact was from the voices of angry, mentally disturbed inmates.

Though improved conditions were promised, these talks have not changed the reality that faces youths in the jail: These people continue to face harsh isolation and living conditions. The Sheriff's and Probation departments admit we shouldn't be doing this to minors.

The recent publicity about these transfers has prompted the county Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles County Grand Jury to ask for alternatives to housing juveniles in adult jail.

We urge officials to address the deficiencies in the juvenile system that result in these transfers and urge that some other place be found to appropriately house these juveniles before an even greater tragedy occurs.,1,7357630.story?coll=la-news-comment-opinions