Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022 @ 4:17 p.m. / Jail, Local Government, Youth
Del Norte Chief Probation Officer Recommends Closing Juvenile Detention Facility Due to Staffing Shortages
Today's presentation on Del Norte County's juvenile hall from Chief Probation Officer Lonnie Reyman
Shuttering Del Norte County’s juvenile detention facility is inevitable due to the inability to meet state staffing requirements, Chief Probation Officer Lonnie Reyman told supervisors Tuesday.
Reyman agreed to provide supervisors with information on why recruiting and retaining staff is a challenge for his department and agreed to look at how other Northern California counties have handled closing their juvenile halls. But, he said, those counties, including Siskiyou, Lassen, Trinity, Lake and Glenn, dealt with similar staffing issues — including having probation officers fill in as juvenile correction officers.
Reyman also offered other options in lieu of closing the detention facility entirely, including implementing a day release program that would house youth overnight and a special-purpose juvenile hall that would have kids in custody three to four days per week instead of 24-7. But that wouldn’t alleviate the staffing challenges, he said.
“Out of all the possibilities, all the different directions we could go, I think this is, unfortunately, the most sustainable option for our community,” Reyman said, “and ultimately my belief is we would end up here one way or the other.”
Staffing has always been challenging for the Del Norte County Probation Department, especially in its juvenile justice division. Its most critical period, until recently, was in 2016, when only six juvenile corrections officer staffed the detention center, Reyman said. However, since applicants were still applying for jobs, Reyman’s department decided to stick it out with help from its probation officers and from officers at Bar-O Boys Ranch, which closed in 2017.
Currently, six officers staff Del Norte’s juvenile detention facility, Reyman said. A minimum of 11 correctional officers is needed to run juvenile hall.
In the adult probation division, though it’s “staffed on paper with 12,” there are currently six probation officers working, Reyman said.
In addition to staff burnout, Del Norte County regularly isn’t able to meet staffing requirements mandated by the Board of State and Community Corrections. Under Title 15 Minimum Standards for Juvenile Facilities, juvenile detention centers must have a male and female staff member on duty during each shift, Reyman said. He doesn’t have those people.
“Right now when we’re outside of regs, we’re documenting that. That’s about the best we can do,” he said, adding that currently only males are in custody so the county juvenile hall isn’t operating outside of regulations currently, but it’s a regular problem. “I fully expect at some point, if we continue on the way we are, I’ll be speaking to a board of about 14 people in Sacramento to explain why we’re not able to meet regulatory requirements and they’ll expect a mitigation plan from me.”
On the adult probation side, Reyman said his department is required to produce reports for the court, especially for felony cases. Because of staffing issues in juvenile hall, probation officers have to fill in and those reports are regularly late.
“My problem is now becoming a community problem because cases are delayed,” Reyman said. “Victims are not being given their due in a timely fashion often. And our offenders we’re working with, things get dragged on and on. There is a distinct lack of accountability.”
The Del Norte County Probation Department are currently has 500 adults on its books, Reyman said. Meanwhile, between 20-30 youth are on probation currently and there’s a pending list “probably that big at least.” However, Reyman said, the juvenile detention center is currently housing two youth with one scheduled to be released later this week.
If Del Norte’s juvenile detention facility is shuttered, Reyman recommended transferring in-custody youth to facilities in Humboldt, Mendocino, Shasta and Tehama counties. He recommended multiple counties because of roads and the weather, noting that if U.S. 101 at Last Chance Grade “goes” transporting juvenile offenders to Humboldt wouldn’t be an option.
Del Norte County’s contract with those counties would be on an as-used basis, Reyman said.
Del Norte County would need to assemble a re-entry program for returning youth as well as facilitating access to family and legal connections, Reyman said. The county would also have to provide temporary custody — local law enforcement agencies such as the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office and Crescent City Police Department would transfer custody to the probation department, Reyman said.
The county would need a place to hold and process those youth, Reyman said, and the ability to transport them.
“The focus (would be) identifying the needs of each youth and the appropriate place for them to go,” he said. “Each county has its strengths and weaknesses. But Humboldt would always be my first call.”
This transition would save the county roughly $600,000, Reyman said.
Despite the immediacy with which Reyman urged supervisors to provide direction to staff, a local public defender, a member of the county’s Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Commission and president of the Del Norte County Employees Association urged them to get more information before making a decision.
Elly Hoopes, who works for the public defenders’ office and represents many juveniles in delinquency action, said she supports the closure of youth incarceration, but not in transporting in-custody youth out of county.
“Ultimately this discussion about juvenile hall is really having to do with the topic of the children, the kids,” she said. “The purpose of the Welfare Institution Code is to rehabilitate them and make sure we as a community come together and have that happen… I think we need to have diversion and come together to come up with solutions beyond closure.”
Paul Dillard said he and other members of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Commission have known about the staffing retention challenges since about June 2021. He said he’s worried that closing the juvenile detention facility will affect youth access to due process, noting that many attorneys don’t have time to drive to Humboldt County to meet with a youth client.
Dillard also pointed out that youth offenders from Del Norte County may be exposed to gangs in Humboldt County.
“We support a half-step program. We support (a) special purpose Juvenile Hall,” he said. “We’d go to ankle bracelets before we go to Humboldt.”
Norma Williams, president of the Del Norte County Employees Association, said both the employees and unions have questions about the re-entry program Reyman is proposing along with shuttering the detention facility.
Currently, she said, staff are overworked. Deputy probation officers have had to fill shifts at juvenile hall on top of what they’re mandated to do for the courts. Employees are working well over 12 hours, and in some cases, 16-17 hours, Williams said.
“Something to keep in mind is the impact on employees because their contract clearly states what happens to employees when … There is a process,” she said. “This is a significant change to the contract and a significant impact on the well deserving employees at juvenile hall.”
District 2 Supervisor Valerie Starkey, however, asked Reyman whether his recommendation to close the juvenile detention facility is only because of its staffing challenges. If so, she said, she and her colleagues need to look at why the county is unable to staff the juvenile division.
“You’ve shared with me that you don’t think it’s just money or it’s the housing shortage,” Starkey said. “When you come to us and say you want to close this based on staffing, I don’t feel comfortable saying OK without doing more research as to why. Is it just the burnout? Is it just the pay? Is it just recruitment issues?”
Starkey said when she spoke with Reyman regarding his recommendation to shutter the facility, she hadn’t considered a juvenile offender’s access to due process and the impact of housing them with high-risk youth in another community.
Starkey’s colleague, District 1 Supervisor Darrin Short, asked if repurposing the facility so it’s a special purpose juvenile hall that detains youth on three to four days per week instead of 24-7 had merit.
Reyman a special purpose facility would still be a detention center that’d fall under the same state regulations as the current facility.
“The staff-to-ward requirements would remain the same and the gender requirements remain the same,” he said.
District 3 Supervisor Chris Howard said that while he understands Starkey’s concerns, especially since this is the first time Reyman brought his recommendation to shutter the juvenile detention facility, “we’ve been circling this ever since I’ve known you in this position.”
“I don’t think there’s a potentially magic bullet that could help us solve our problem,” he said. “We’ve been discussing this at length for awhile. I’m willing to take that extra step and have a discussion, but I’m not sure it’ll change the eventual outcome. It’s a tough decision to make.”