JJC Attorney Rhyzan Croomes '19 Speaks to Senate on the Failings of Juvenile Justice Realignment SB 823

On  Feb. 14, 2024, Rhyzan Croomes '19, supervising staff attorney of the Juvenile Justice Clinic, spoke in front of the Senate Budget Subcommittee on the failings of Senate Bill 823, the Juvenile Justice Realignment.  

Croomes began her testimony with the shocking and heartbreaking story of Bryan Diaz, 18, who was housed at Sylmar's Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall when he tragically lost his life due to a fentanyl overdose. Croomes continued her testimony on the lack of oversight, staff issues and the terrifying conditions that the youth in Secure Youth Treatment Facilities (SYTF) like Barry J., are subjected to every day. 

"I recall a young person begging the court to hear what was really going on at Barry J. They talked about children soiling themselves or using water bottles to urinate at night because staff were not present to open the doors. They talked about multiple occasions getting injured without aid from staff. They talked about lack of outside time and how kids were locked in the dayroom for countless hours unable to stretch their legs." 

She highlighted the struggles they endure, including limited programming, inadequate education and the absence of re-entry planning. "There is a lack of schooling and services provided at SYTF. All they received was packet learning and inconsistent access to education or educators for that matter." 

"The common thread is there is just no true desire to rehabilitate these youth," Croomes says. "Their lives are not valued. Their potential is not a priority."  

Enacted in 2020, SB 823 realigned supervision of youth ordered to the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to individual counties. Counties assumed the responsibility of creating Secure Youth Treatment Facilities (SYTF). The goal was to provide safe and secure housing for youth previously ordered to DJJ, and to implement and improve youth and family wellness and community safety by increasing access to opportunities to strengthen resiliency and reduce delinquency.  (Los Angeles County Division of Juvenile Justice Transition Plan). The 2022-2023 budget included $100 million one-time General Fund for counties to invest in their juvenile facilities, in addition to other grants provided.   

Los Angeles County, the largest juvenile justice system in the state, holds a daily incarcerated population of over 500 youth. Since the enactment of SB 823, reports of violence and staff misconduct, sexual abuse, substance use, probation-run or encouraged fight clubs among the youth, have plagued the juvenile halls 

Croomes' personal experience as a juvenile attorney shed light on the urgent need to defund the LA County Probation Department, the recipient of the majority of funding through SB 823, in order to shift the focus to investing in trauma-informed community-based support. "The goal of SB 823 was to reduce reliance on incarceration and expand community-based options for youth," said Croomes. "This goal can absolutely be achieved by making a fundamental shift in Los Angeles County and investing in community services. Services that are not probation-led and community-based step-downs, opportunities for youth to pursue a higher education or learn skills that will lead to employment. We have an opportunity to move juvenile justice to a rehabilitative, trauma-informed and developmentally appropriate system." 

Croomes emphasized that the Probation Department, with its focus on policing, is ill-equipped to serve LA County youth with the holistic youth development approach needed to ensure decreased incarceration and increased success upon release.

The Juvenile Justice Clinic, part of the Center for Juvenile Law & Policy at Loyola Law School, not only represents children in delinquency court, but is at the forefront of juvenile justice reform. Attorneys like Croomes are speaking in front of government entities to advocate for systemic reform and enact legislation to protect the rights of justice-involved youth across Los Angeles County. 

UDDATE: On Feb. 15, 2024, the California Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) again found Barry J. Nidorf and Los Padrinos Juvenile Halls unsuitable for all youth, citing issues of lack of staffing, recreational and educational programs, safety checks, unnecessary prolonged room confinement, and the overuse of force on the youth. Despite being found unsuitable for youth, in February 2022, Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall was proposed for the development of the Los Angeles County SYTF. Shortly after, all SYTF youth were transferred to this site. In March 2022, LA County moved all youth from Central Juvenile Hall to Barry J. Nidorf. On May 23, 2023, this facility was again found to be unsuitable for confinement of youth pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code 209. Nevertheless, Barry J. Nidorf remained open.   

To watch the entire hearing, please click here.