ACLU accuses LA County of failing kids at Challenger probation camp

Civil rights groups Tuesday alleged in a lawsuit that Los Angeles County fails to educate children housed in its largest juvenile probation camp.

The federal class action suit focuses on the Challenger Memorial Youth Center in Lancaster.

Civil rights attorneys presented audio of one boy who said staff at the probation camp repeatedly pulled him out of class to work.

"If, say like, we painting the classroom, he’d keep me the whole day.”

Attorneys called the boy Casey to protect his identity.

They said he’d been in and out of the camp for years. Last year L.A. County awarded him a high school diploma – even though he’s illiterate.

“They knew I couldn’t read," said Casey. "When she gave me the test, most of the time, she gave me the answers.”

In their lawsuit, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Children’s Rights Project at Public Counsel also detailed the case of a 15-year-old boy they call Miguel.

“On some days, Miguel received no educational instruction at all," said Laura Faer of Public Counsel.

"On other days, his education consisted of nothing more than educational materials being shoved under his cell door. On those days, Miguel never saw a teacher and he never interacted with other students.”

Faer added that the camp routinely bills the state for providing instruction – even when kids aren’t in class.

The L.A. County Probation Department did not return a call for comment on the lawsuit.

The Challenger facility sits next to an adult prison in Lancaster in northern L.A. County. Faer said it houses 650 juveniles who’ve committed offenses ranging from truancy to assault.

“The egregious failures and deprivations described in the complaint are the hallmarks of an institution that consigns children to a life in the criminal justice system.”

Faer noted that more than 80% of inmates in adult prison never receive their high school diplomas.

The A.C.L.U.’s Mark Rosenbaum said it costs about $50,000 a year to incarcerate a kid at Challenger. State law requires juvenile detention facilities to rehabilitate, not punish.

Rosenbaum acknowledged that probation camps house difficult kids.

“But they are tough cases that in other jurisdictions’ schools have produced a dramatic reduction in recidivism.”

L.A.’s Challenger camp, he said, doesn’t offer that kind of opportunity to kids like Casey.

Casey, now 18-years-old, knows the importance of reading.

“If I don’t how to read, I can’t get no where in life mostly. Cause I can’t read nothing.”

Among other things, the lawsuit seeks to force L.A. County to offer intensive reading and writing services for current and former occupants of the Challenger probation camp.

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