Lawsuit settlement changes system at Los Angeles’ largest juvenile detention center

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In January, the American Civil Liberties Union, Public Counsel and the Disability Rights Legal Center sued Los Angeles County for failing to educate hundreds of young men at Challenger Memorial Youth Center in Lancaster. It is Los Angeles’ largest juvenile detention center.

ACLU Chief Counsel Mark Rosenbaum described graduation day for the lead plaintiff, Casey A., who is representative of many detainees.

“He was unable to read a single word on his diploma,” Rosenbaum said. “Didn’t know what a diploma was, even though he was handed one. And when we asked him where he wanted to have lunch to celebrate, he said Denny’s because there were pictures on the menu, and that was the only place he could order.”

Casey and other graduates will now be eligible for remedial education.

On Wednesday, the Board of Supervisors agreed to a settlement agreement that will chart a new course for Challenger, a place long seen as the “black hole of Los Angeles’ juvenile justice system.”

Strongly worded criticism is not new for Challenger. A 2004 Grand Jury described the six camps at Challenger as having “urine and dirty clothing all over the floors,” “abundant filth” and “no discipline.” Later, violent inmate fights at the center were found posted online.

Shawna Parks of the Disability Rights Legal Center speaks of exciting developments.

“We’re also going to be giving them things they never had before — books — to read, a library, a librarian.”

Under the settlement, teachers will be held to much higher standards. They will be supervised by a team of experts who will closely observe them and demand better outcomes. There will not be high levels of substitute teachers or unqualified teachers.

Rosenbaum, the plaintiffs and their parents demand fairness in their access to education.

“Why should these kids have any different qualified teachers? Then the teachers where your kids go? Then the teachers where the best public schools are?”

Rosenbaum says there are economic reasons for doing the right thing, too. It costs $80- to $100,000 a year to incarcerate an adult. And there is a 60- to 70 percent recidivism rate for graduates of Challenger.

“If one didn’t care a bit about these kids or about their futures, but mainly looked at this case as a matter of dollars and cents, this is the best economic move that this county has made in decades,” Rosenbaum said.

Better education, vocational training and transition counseling will keep more graduates out of the justice system.

Representatives from the Department of Probation and the Los Angeles County Office of Education were pleased with the results and speed of the settlement. And, they say the reforms coming will set a precedent, both within Los Angeles and nationally.


  1. What role does personal responsibility play in this situation. This student couldn’t read one word? Where were his parents in all of this? They want to blame teachers but students and parents need to examine themselves.

  2. Concrete Sealer Brisbane says:

    Its really a great thing they have done educating them. Every one should take this kind of initiation to educate the world.

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