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In my previous blog I wrote about the endemic nature of abuse in juvenile institutions. No sooner had I written that blog than the following article appeared in the Los Angeles Times regarding the beating and molestation of youths under the custody of the Los Angeles Probation Department. The article’s authors highlighted incidents where staff were actually prosecuted for particularly egregious criminal acts including sexual exploitation and beatings of youth in their custody. In one instance a probation officer was sentenced to a year in county jail for ordering juvenile hall youths to assault another youth because she believed he had stolen her cell phone. The cell phone was later found in the parking lot, where she had accidentally dropped it. 

Despite my 20+ years working in the criminal justice system, I never cease to be shocked at the ease in which people in positions of power quickly adopt the behaviors and attitudes of those whom they righteously condemn. As the noted Sociologist Erving Goffman detailed his classic book the Asylum, and what Stanford Psychologist Phil Zimbardo found with his famous prison study, normal” people when given unchecked authority over others, can quickly become abusive tormentors. Historically it has always been easy for abuses to occur in youth institutions because of their natural isolation and the frequent lack of public scrutiny. When abuses do occur, as in LA County, administrators are quick to heap blame on rogue staff. However, institutional abuse cannot occur without the acquiescence of the non-abusive staff who witness events and say nothing because they fear colleague retaliation and by administrators who are responsible for ensuring that staff are properly trained and supervised. The current problems plaguing LA County’s juvenile justice system are cultural and structural and will not be addressed simply by the hiring of additional internal investigation staff.

Click here for the Los Angeles Times article.