Is It Reform or Is It Care Less About Victims?
The Reason I Stand for the Rally
By Senior Detention Services Officer Eric Walton, Institutions Vice President, AFSCME Local 685
Healthy evidence-based reform is essential when it comes to unpacking years of historical injustices within the criminal justice system. The question becomes, at what cost? Can we really call it reform when victims are ignored? Is it reform when the victim's trauma, mental health, and their family members mean nothing?
Unfortunately, during this movement of reform, victims do not exist. This movement has taken on a “Care Less” approach toward victims. What Los Angeles County residents are experiencing with smash and grabs, armed robberies, home invasions, and murder was foretold many times to officials at the local and state levels by the professional officers represented by the LA County Deputy Probation Officers’ Union, AFSCME Local 685.
We inform local officials repeatedly of the increasing level of violence in the juvenile institutions, including youth-on-youth and youth-on-officer assaults, as well as the destruction of County property. But the reports fall on deaf ears. We share how youth openly brag to their fellow peers and how they victimize others in the institutions and in the community, and there are documented conversations from adults in County jail about how they are getting away with victimizing others in the community
Instead of assisting with the violence, a vilification campaign was launched against those of us who put our own jobs and lives on the line every day to supervise and reform youth in the juvenile halls and camps.
In May of 2018, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors established the Probation Reform and Implementation Team (PRIT). This team held various meetings throughout the county, discrediting the work the of professional probation peace officers, who work with youth in LA County's juvenile halls and camps. During these meetings the PRIT rarely discussed or presented how officers operate as surrogate parents, coaches, mentors, and teachers to the young people in their care. There was little talk about the fully sanctioned CIF sports program, in which a featured film was made, Gridiron Gang, starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. The PRIT said very little about such programs like the culinary arts program, drug counseling program, and the fire camp program that provided services and skills to young people. These programs, which provided important rehabilitative services to young people, were defunded and stopped by the County.
It became evident after a few meetings, that vilifying officers and ignoring the violence, that they were setting the stage and the pretext of moving forward with the agenda of "Reimagining Juvenile Justice. “This was a needless attempt to replace our efforts and labor jobs to Community Based Organizations (CBO)/Group Homes. Some of these organizations are struggling with the violence and are having to shut their doors and lease their properties to DCFS.
The reports did not talk about how many of these young people AWOL from CBO facilities and burglarized local neighbors, targeted local businesses (KABC 7 Woodland Hills De Ja Vu Liquor Store - Amy Powell report May 15, 2021), bully other youth, or even murdered a youth counselor at a group home facility (Way Finder Family Services - Teens beat youth counselor to death KABC 7 January 4, 2021).
It is time for stakeholders and political figures to be truthful and accurate. "Juvenile Justice Reimagined" is a pretext to privatize our work and contract out Union jobs to outside companies run by highly paid “executive directors” cleverly called “Community Based Organizations.” These organizations are normally staffed with non-union, low wage workers, ill-equipped to handle the escalating violence we know so well. This youth justice privatization scheme is another form of child trafficking for profit (without the sex crimes) and is doomed for failure.
Also evident during the PRIT Team meetings, and now the Probation Oversight Commission (POC): There were no victims or victim's right groups directly invited to participate in the public conversation or weigh in on what was discussed. County officials have a responsibility to inform, support, and advocate for victims. So here are the questions:
Why are victims shut out of the conversation?
Why are victim's right groups not invited to the table?
Would victim’s messaging contradict their objectives by telling their stories?
Could it be they do not want victims to know how officials have normalized youth in custody, who commit assaults and destroy County property with impunity, as a reflection of how victims are being treated in the community?
Now hear my heart. No one is ruling out mental health, a challenging up bringing, sexual exploitation, or any other mitigating factors that may play a role in why a young person may become justice impacted.
Many of us who work with justice-impacted youth believe that our young people are redeemable. They can turn their lives around. They can be successful. They can be law-abiding citizens. But the spirit in which officials have been operating to outsource Probation labor jobs and ignoring victims is extremely concerning.
Many of our detractors will attempt to use negative stories and give individuals within the Department who violate County policy the maximum exposure as if that is the norm. Why? Is it to deflect or change the conversation away from LA County residents being victimized, or officers being brutally assaulted inside juvenile institutions?
If officials are blatantly allowing LA County residents to be open game, shun victim's rights groups, and normalize probation officers who are brutally assaulted inside juvenile halls and camps, then it is to set a pretext to outsource jobs.