Community members from South LA stood in front of the LA County Board of Supervisors to demand the defunding of the LA County Probation Department.
Credit: Courtesy LAYUP

On February 14, members of an active social justice coalition showed up in numbers at the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting to demand “love” and “care” for the approximately 350 incarcerated youth in the detention camps and juvenile halls operated by the LA County Probation Department.

The Los Angeles Youth Uprising (LAYUP) is a group of 16 or so social justice organizations working collaboratively to dismantle or reform the county’s juvenile justice system, which they classify as “racist” and would prefer that city and cunty leaders divert resources toward holistic models of youth development.

LA County Probation Department

On the morning of Valentine’s Day, the coalition rallied at Grand Park, (also known as the board of supervisors steps), to publicly demand that the Board of Supervisors take aggressive action against the LA County Probation Department, which they allege systemically abuses children without accountability.

These ongoing efforts to effect change by LA Young Uprising began after the Los Angeles Times released a video on February 11 that showed multiple probation officers physically restraining – one officer appears to bend the teen’s knee toward his head while on his back, and screams of pain can be heard. LA Young Uprising and others in the Latino community see the video as evidence of excessive force against Camp Kilpatrick, 17, who was being detained at a juvenile facility in Malibu.

The incident occurred in October 2020 and was caught on a facility camera. The footage was recently obtained by The Times. The video showed a teenager only known as Beckham to protect his identity, who weighed only about 120 pounds. But was subdued violently by up to 5 staff members.

They grabbed his limbs, forcing him onto a bed by his neck. One officer stuck a knee into the boy’s back. A fifth person, a supervisor named Oscar Cross, entered the shot and takes hold of Beckham’s legs and begins to bend his feet toward his head as Beckham laid pinned on his back and screamed for help from his mother.

The Times reported that the incident occurred after Beckham searched for something to eat and out of frustration for often going hungry, he tossed a carton of milk, which sparked the confrontation that appeared to unfold in mere seconds or minutes. 

“The LA Times article exposing child abuse in Kilpatrick at the hands of LA County’s probation officers speaks for itself. The cries of the young boy in the video should haunt the entire county, especially because we know his story is not unique,” said Emilio Zapién, director of Media and Communications at the Youth Justice Coalition.

After the video went public, LA Young Uprising went into action and proposed that incarcerated youth be removed from the oversight of the county probation department and placed under the protection of the Youth Development Department as soon as possible. 

LA Young Uprising

The Youth Development Department is designated to be an equity-driven public agency for youth policy development, coutywide coordination and programming innovation. In addition, the department uses resources and services to support Black, Indigenous, Latinos and people of color (BIPOC) youth who are at high r risk of experiencing income inequality, housing insecurity, foster care, the juvenile justice system involvement, undocumented status, disconnection from both school and employment and community violence. 

Other demands include: Terminate as employees Adolfo Gonzales, LA County’s Chief Probation Officer, and Karen Fletcher, LA County’s Chief Deputy; ban the use of pepper spray on incarcerated youth; and allocate about $410 million of the annual juvenile probation budget to be diverted to the Youth Development Department’s budget.

The LA County Probation Department was established in 1903 and employs 4,768 people, 3,347 of whom are sworn probation officers. The number of sworn officers roughly equals the population of the City of Avalon. The department’s latest report reveals that an alarming number of Latinos/Hispanics being detained within the LA County Probation Department. 

According to the report, in 2021, Hispanic youth made up 60% of their daily hall population and 65% of their daily camp population, in comparison to white youth who only make up 3% of their hall population and 3.3% of their camp population.  

The Youth Justice Coalition (YJC), one of the leading organizations in last week’s rally, works to challenge race, gender and class discrimination in LA County’s juvenile and criminal injustice systems. Their goal as a non-profit organization is “to dismantle policies and institutions that have ensured the massive lock-up of people of color, widespread law enforcement violence and corruption, consistent violation of youth and communities,” as stated on their website.  

The organization makes it a priority to stand up for LA County incarcerated youth and to push for improved treatment and conditions.

Leaders of LA Young Uprising and other critics are voicing contempt for the fact that Cross remains a supervisor who continues to work directly with incarcerated youth. Cross remains a supervisor at Camp Kilpatrick, after, as The Times reported, Chief Probation Officer, Adolfo Gonzales, spared him from termination. “Los Angeles County Probation, a department the Board of Supervisors continues to fund and protect, abuses children, covers up the abuse and protects the abusers,” Zapién added.

The Los Angeles County Probation Department is currently the largest probation service agency in the United States, with an operations budget of more than $900 million, according to the LA County website

incarcerated youth in LA County.

Jacob Jackson, Youth Outreach Coordinator for Youth Justice Coalition, said the money the County invests in the probation department can be better used for youth’s well-being and support. 

“YJC has been organizing for 20 years to divest dollars from law enforcement back to youth development, and now we finally have the Youth Development Department. But now that we actually have a department, and we are still waiting for what we were promised by the County Board [of Supervisors]: to fully fund the department and Youth Justice Reimagined by defunding probation,” Jackson told CALÓ NEWS.

The Youth Justice Reimagined motion was adopted by the LA County Board of Supervisors in November 2020. Youth Justice Reimagined was intended to be a new model for youth justice in LA County, which commits to transitioning the County’s youth justice system to the care-first model by 2025. This includes changes such as reallocating resources dedicated to youth incarceration and supervision to other community institutions, including community centers, schools, after-school program and job training that reflect the values of restorative justice and healing. 

 “Let’s not forget, it costs about $1 million in taxpayer dollars per youth per year to lock them up,” Jackson said. 

Beni Benitez, Youth Organizer part of YJC, said that LA County spends $410 million dollars per year on the incarceration and the “trauma, physical and sexual abuse of children.”

“The LA Times article exposed child abuse in Kilpatrick at the hands of LA county’s probation officers,” Benitez said.

Beckham told the LA Times that after the incident occurred, he was sent to a nurse who gave him medicine to calm him down, but he was never treated for serious injuries. He said he did want to report the incident, but quickly changed his mind after his probation officer warned him that he could be sent to a county juvenile hall. Beckham was in a camp and knew that halls are more like jails, which is why he decided to stay quiet.

Benitez said the LA County Board of Supervisors needs to stop protecting probation officers and start protecting youth. “The abuse is systemic, and the only real accountability is systemic accountability. That means you must defund this abusive system immediately,” he said.

After the rally, YJC invited community members to sign up for public comment and demand justice for Beckham and other youth who have been victims of the current juvenile incarceration system. 

One of the youngest members to stand before the board was 7-year-old, Violet Rivas. “No one should be on a 17-year-old that way, and it’s not right for people to hurt a kid like that,” she said. “I have to stand up for them because even though I’m a kid, I know it’s not okay.”

Read more knows about Latin justice here.

Brenda Fernanda Verano is a journalist born in Mexico and raised in South Central, LA. Verano is a two-time award winner in the California College Media Association Awards. At CALÓ News, she covers...