Crime & Justice

Researchers: New LA County juvenile probation camp could be transformational

A judge's gavel rests on top of a desk in a courtroom.
A judge's gavel rests on top of a desk in a courtroom.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

With L.A. County closer than ever to a $48 million overhaul of Camp Kilpatrick – a juvenile probation camp in Malibu – a pair of researchers say the transformation could set a new paradigm for juvenile justice in the county.

In a policy paper released Dec. 3, UCLA Professor Jorja Leap and Michelle Newell of the Children's Defense Fund - California point out  flaws in the way L.A. County handles juvenile offenders. They also make suggestions for rebuilding it in a way that reflects new research on juvenile justice.

"We want to go from punishment to rehabilitation," Leap said in a phone interview. "Stop these youth from entering the adult criminal justice system in the future."

Currently, probation camps in L.A. follow the boot-camp, barracks style, Leap and Newell wrote. Despite improvements in the system, they wrote: "most youth in the camps (as in the rest of the country) are still subjected to some discredited and outdated approaches based largely on control and coercion."

Kids often have a lot of free time, with little available programming. 

Models used elsewhere in the country house juvenile offenders in cottages and focus entirely on treatment and developing social and decision-making skills. Those programs, they write, have much better outcomes for children.

As the plans for Kilpatrick flesh out, the researchers recommend probation officials and county politicians keep a number of goals for the camp in mind:

  • Adapt proven models from elsewhere to L.A.'s unique population.
  • Use the camp as a testing ground for programs that can be replicated in other camps.
  • Keep better data on kids' outcomes.

Read the complete policy paper below: