Monday Morning Thoughts: GE May Be Freed, but Problems Persist

The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting that “GE” may be released as the result of heightened scrutiny, calls from Congressman John Garamendi and plans for a vigil tomorrow outside of the Yolo County Juvenile Detention Facility.

This jibes with information that the Vanguard received on Saturday from a source who believes that the planned protest will help the boy get moved earlier than he might otherwise would have.

However, the Vanguard’s extensive analysis suggests that GE is far from the only child going through this, and there needs to be a much more systemic analysis than has occurred so far.

The county receives $2.8 million annually to house the ORR (Office of Refugee Resettlement) program at the juvenile detention center.

Victoria Blacksmith, the Supervising Detention Officer, in October 2016 gave a presentation to the Yolo County Board of Supervisors.  She told them that these individuals must have “serious charges.”  She said, “We are not going to a get a youth with petty theft charges.  Most of these charges are serious in nature.”  She said that they range from assaults to sexually inappropriate behavior to gang behavior.

But GE didn’t fit that category, and neither did several other people for whom we have documented cases.  Part of the problem is that we don’t know what charges they face.  They are not entitled to open court proceedings.  They are held indefinitely.

Some have suggested  that if the ORR program were not housed in Woodland it would be housed somewhere else.  That is clearly true.  While Yolo County is one of only three secure locations in the country, clearly it would be housed somewhere else.

One official pointed out that in some ways, if the program exists, it is good to have the contract in Yolo so we can have this kind of community oversight. If it were in a larger or less compassionate location, the status of the kids might not be discussed.

But there is a problem with that thinking.

First of all, it is not clear that Yolo County has exercised proper oversight here.  While Ms. Blacksmith was adamant about the fact that the kids in the program were not simply accused of minor crimes like petty theft, in actuality GE’s case seems to be at odds with that assertion.  Other cases where we have been able to examine the record seem to be similar – no known criminal accusation

And even where some have criminal accusations – we have problems with oversight, with allegedly false confessions, and a lack of judicial accountability.

The Vanguard received a copy of declarations filed in a case before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal last August.  It details a Guatemalan teenager with a similar background to GE.

The individual, not identified by name, wrote: “They have also not given me any explanation why they transferred me to another detention center for delinquents like Yolo, instead of a place like Southwest Key. I never had any problems with the other detainees or with those in charge of Southwest key.

“In Yolo, we live in a real prison. The food, the program, the life, the routine: everything is a penitentiary. They treat us badly, like delinquents. The entire time, we live locked up. They don’t grab us to go to the park, the library, or anywhere normal. They lock us up in the cells every night, to sleep on benches made out of cement with mattresses.”

The individual indicated that they have “never consulted with a lawyer.”

Then there are problems with the conditions of the jail.

In another case filed over the summer, attorneys Holly Cooper and Carter White, representing “PA,” a minor, claim that PA has been detained for 26 months.

They write, “Despite his vulnerabilities, P.A. is detained alongside juvenile delinquents in an unsafe, traumatizing environment. P.A. is frequently locked down in a 10 foot by 15 foot cell for the majority of the day due to lack of sufficient jail staff.”

They note the deplorable and abusive conditions in the facility, including having “witnessed guards performing oral sex in front of an entire pod of detained children,” as well frequent assaults and witnessing children attempt suicide.

Contained in a court filing, Yolo County officials should be demanding an investigation into the specific conditions at their juvenile detention facility.

But instead, what appears to be happening is that Yolo officials are happy to take the $2.8 million annually for the 30 beds and then look the other way at a series of documented and alleged abuses of the process.

These are questions that Yolo County officials need to be asking:

  1. Who are the people being detained – are they dangerous to themselves or the community as officials claim, or are they simply children who got caught up in the system that has little transparency?
  2. What kind of oversight exists for this system?
  3. What are the conditions under which these kids are being housed? Should these kids be treated as criminals?  Are they criminals?
  4. Is the treatment here protecting kids who might otherwise be deported and brutalized in their native country, or are we contributing to their continued traumatization with the conditions of the detention center?
  5. Are there problems with the treatment of people in custody at the juvenile detention center?

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Sharla C.

    These questions could be brought to the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Commission to investigate.  When I was on the commission, we were closely monitoring the DA’s practice of direct filing, which resulted in long stays in Juvenile Hall while they’re cases slowly wound through adult criminal court.  These kids were not offerred an opportunity to post bail.   Some kids ended up being acquited after several years in the Hall and then merely released without any services to transition them into the community.  At that time, the contract with ORR was just starting and youth were being held only a few months at the most and in one of the pods with the younger boys and female detainees, not the pod with older kids charged with more serious crimes (murder, attempted murder, etc.)

    The Commission has a level of security clearance which allows them to go into the Hall, and Court.    They can demand detailed information about how many kids are being held and why, and the length of their stay.  They can visit inside the Hall at any time to monitor conditions.  They can look into staffing, if kids are being locked in their rooms during day hours, prevented from attending school, incidents of force by officers, etc.  They should investigate the allegation of oral sex by Hall staff.

      1. Sharla C.

        A couple of years ago.  They are always looking for people in the community to serve on this commission.  The membership tends to be predominately made up of former probation and education professionals and I feel that it needs more people from the broader community who can advocate for the youth.  When I started there was around 35-45 or more Yolo County kids in the Hall at any time.  When I resigned the numbers were down to around 25-28 kids.  There was improvement in how the kids were interviewed and a shift in understanding that kids were better off at home, than in the Hall in most cases.  I experienced a lot of frustration with trying to affect change, but I do think it has the potential to provide closer oversight.  The mere fact that the lawyers had to go to the media to get their client’s needs met, means that the Commission is not living up to its potential.

  2. Matt Rexroad

    If Congressman John Garamendi was such a force the federal agency in charge of this program would have solved this problem by now. This is just political grandstanding.

    Matt Rexroad


    1. Tia Will


      This is just political grandstanding.”

      There are two separate issues here. You may feel that Rep. Garamendi’s actions are political grandstanding. But there is no way that release from an unwarranted detention can be seen as nothing more than political grandstanding.


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