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Claremont Courier - A Local Nonprofit Newsroom

Juvenile justice ‘realignment’ may bring offenders to area camps

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com
Two state laws to be phased in over the next 18 months will radically transform juvenile justice in California and possibly result in youth offenders convicted of violent felonies being housed at existing camps in the hills of La Verne.

In a process called “realignment,” the two Senate bills, SB 823 and SB 92, have the joint effect of closing California Division of Juvenile Justice facilities and transferring youth offenders from state to county jurisdictions. The changes are part of an effort to focus on education and social services instead of incarceration for these offenders. In addition, the realignment would bring those youth closer to their homes where officials hope they will receive greater support from family.

Under the directive, all transfers to the state’s remaining three youth lock-ups ceased on June 30, 2021, with some exceptions defined in SB 823. Under SB 92, the director of the Division of Juvenile Justice must develop a plan for the transfer of jurisdiction by January 1, 2022, the final closure of state juvenile prisons must be completed by June 30, 2023.

The law also creates a new state office of Youth and Community Restoration to handle the realignment effort and establishes a Juvenile Justice Realignment Block Grant program to provide the needed funds for the state’s 58 counties.

So, where are all of the juvenile offenders supposed to go? The answer may be to camps Joseph Paige and Afflerbaugh, both off of Stephens Ranch Road in La Verne. The camps, which have been in operation since the 1960s, are juvenile court schools, which historically have housed youth convicted of relatively minor crimes. Under realignment however, camps Paige and Afflerbaugh could become “secure youth treatment facilities” and would house juvenile offenders categorized as 707b, those convicted of crimes such as murder, attempted murder, arson, kidnapping and rape, among other serious offenses.

The two local camps are among roughly half dozen sites in the county which are being considered for security and site upgrades to become “secure youth treatment facilities.” Another local facility, Camp Glenn Rockey in San Dimas, is also on the short list.
The job of identifying the appropriate location for these offenders will be the job of the Juvenile Justice Realignment Block Grant Subcommittee and, ultimately, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

Currently, 14 of the 707b youth offenders are housed at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar. When realignment is complete, the county will have to find room for approximately 145 more, plus any juveniles who are convicted of serious crimes from this point forward.

But not all transfers from the state will ultimately be headed to the most secure facility, as each individual will be evaluated in a “tiered approach” to rehabilitation, which focuses on individual needs and the best environment based on those needs, according to Helen Chavez, Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s assistant chief of staff, communications.

“The Juvenile Justice Realignment Block Grant (JJRBG) Subcommittee is looking at selecting one or two camps. Ultimately, the total number of camps that will be selected by the subcommittee will be determined by their assessment of the “tiered” level of rehabilitation and care that should be offered to the youth offenders,” Chavez said.

The news that Afflerbaugh and Paige might become lockups for serious youth offenders shocked and surprised many locals, including some in Claremont.
Claraboya resident, Jess Johannsen, said he and some of his neighbors are concerned about increased crime due to the proximity of the camps, which he described as being “a stone’s throw away” from homes in the north part of Claremont. In addition, with just one way in and out of the facility, Stephens Ranch Rd., the location seemed inappropriate for a high-security environment.

“With the rise in crime we are seeing already, this is only going to make it worse,” he said.

On December 7, county officials, including representative from the board of supervisors, department of probation and the probation oversight commission, held a “community listening session” at Oak Mesa School in La Verne. Following that meeting, La Verne Mayor Tim Hepburn released a statement saying that he strongly opposed housing violent offenders at the camps.

“It’s important that you continually email these people that you call them and bombard them with the information that … both of these facilities are not to be used for 707b offenders and quite frankly they should be closed. And there are other places in the county that are more suitable for this,” Hepburn posted via social media.

Hepburn told the COURIER on Monday that La Verne has supported the youth of Los Angeles County for decades, citing David and Margaret Youth and Family Services, Haynes Family Programs, and Afflerbaugh and Paige as examples. But he said that housing the 707b offenders at the camps was both inappropriate for the area and potentially dangerous.

“We are looking at a possible population of 30 to 50 youth, and I say youth, but they are 18 to 25. These are heinous offenders, they’re are not children any longer. It’s just the juvenile justice system [because] if you are 17 they try you as a youth but these offenses are just unbelievably horrific,” Hepburn said

Afflerbaugh and Paige were identified by the subcommittee as suitable sites because they fit in with the “L.A. model” of rehabilitation which in part seeks to get youth offenders out of prison-like settings and into more holistic environments. The problem, according to Hepburn, is that the camps are no longer isolated as they were 60 years ago, but are now surrounded by hundreds of homes and thousands of residents.

He described that part of La Verne as being nothing but citrus groves when Afflerbaugh and Paige were built, but now if you get off the freeway and head to the camps, it is all housing, parks and schools.

“If you are going to come into this community and check these facilities out, you need to put a seat at the table for our residents and let us know what is going on. We are not a NIMBY community, we give a lot to Los Angeles County for the youth. We are all about youth, we are a family-based community and residential-based community. But this [housing of youth offenders] is just unacceptable. Our community does not deserve this, it’s dangerous for all of our residents and it’s dangerous for everyone, it can’t happen here,” Hepburn said.

Supervisor Barger, who represents La Verne, and as a result of the recent redistricting now represents Claremont as well, released a statement supporting the county’s changing approach to juvenile justice and her commitment to seeing the process through before making a decision.

“Changes to state laws are requiring our board of supervisors to make tough choices about where to best house and care for the youth that were formerly supervised by the Department of Justice,” Barger said. “As a county, we’ve already decided to reimagine how we approach justice involved youth. This includes a balance of providing trauma informed programming and implementing a comprehensive set of security requirements that must be in place to safeguard the environment the youth are in and the surrounding community, at large.”

Barger said she believes that the youth coming from the state would best be served at the site where they are currently being served — Campus Barry J. Nidorf. Saying this would be the least disruptive to their treatment and care, and that “it’s the most efficient way forward.”

“I want to emphasize that no decisions have been made. Community input and involvement in the Probation Oversight Commission’s decision-making process is critical. I urge residents to join those meetings and our County Board of Supervisors meetings to speak up — voicing different perspectives is the best way to go about developing solutions to tough issues like this one.”

The subcommittee is set to make its final recommendation by mid-January and the matter will come before the board of supervisors shortly afterward, either in late January or early February.

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