An LA County Supervisor’s effort to close a deteriorating youth detention was thwarted after other supervisors voted the proposal down, according to an article by the Los Angeles Daily News.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger said Camp Kenyon Scudder, a Santa Clarita juvenile hall, should permanently close because the 74-year-old facility is not suitable for focusing on rehabilitation, or for housing “secure youth track offenders” who require longer-term placement. However, three fellow supervisors voted no on a motion Barber put forward to close the site.
“I am extremely surprised and disappointed with the outcome of today’s vote by the Board of Supervisors,” Barber said. “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.”
Barber viewed closing Camp Scudder as part of a “larger effort toward decarceration and rehabilitation” rather than an emphasis on imprisoning people, said the article.
In a state probe, Camp Scudder was cited for numerous abuses and unsafe living conditions. The county’s other juvenile detention sites were cited as well, the article said.
The county is struggling with housing decisions for youth offenders in the face of its antiquated facilities—some worse than others—that are all under criticism for being unsafe and unconducive for rehabilitation.
Making matters more challenging, in July 2023, the California Department of Juvenile Justice will no longer operate its “secure facilities,” which previously received the secure youth track offenders from the state’s counties.
Others involved with Camp Scudder support Barger’s effort to close the troubled facility.
“I personally have worked with juvenile justice youth in county-operated camps as a mental health professional,” said Nicole Vienna. “I can attest to fact that Camp Scudder was a very challenging environment. Space was lacking and security breaches were common. Our youth deserve a setting that is both rehabilitative and secure.”
Proponents for the closure, for their part, admit that the question of where to move young people in longer-term custody poses a problem for county officials, given the problems with the existing juvenile facilities available, said the article.
Regardless of which sites are ultimately chosen, county officials are facing pushback from communities that do not want youth offender facilities in their neighborhoods.
Numerous cities in the Santa Gabriel Valley, as well as the Malibu and Santa Clarita areas, have opposed plans to house juvenile offenders convicted of serious crimes in county facilities in their communities.
However, proponents for closing or repurposing the most outdated camps point to the necessity of providing safe and rehabilitative facilities that don’t create unjust circumstances, or violate the Eighth Amendment’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment. Legal precedent appears to be on their side.
In the 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Roper v. Simmons, which determined that the death penalty for offenders under 18 was unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment, triggered a new era of case law benefiting youth offenders.
In that case, the court cited “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society,” saying that the context of what constitutes just punishment has evolved to be informed by the ways in which a young person’s developing brain impacts their behavior and decision-making.
“Today’s vote demonstrates lack of consistency and follow-through on that commitment,” Barger said. “To make meaningful change, our board cannot speak out of both sides of its mouth.”