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Los Angeles Juvenile Hall Chaplain Honored for Human Rights Work

Javier Stauring, a lay chaplain for detained youths in Los Angeles, is one of three individuals Human Rights Watch will honor on November 12 for their human rights work. Stauring mobilized a local interfaith coalition in June to protest abuses against youths in the Men’s Central Jail, leading the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to declare that the jail was unfit for detainees under the age of 18.

Stauring’s decision to speak publicly cost him the opportunity to minister to detainees in Men’s Central. Citing privacy concerns, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department revoked Stauring’s access to the jail on June 20, 2003,one day after he criticized detention practices for youths in the jail. Although the county now plans to move the youths to more suitable facilities, Stauring’s status remains unresolved.

“Javier’s shown great courage in speaking out on behalf of an unpopular group, and he’s remained true to his convictions in the face of reprisals,” said Michael Bochenek, counsel to the Children’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. “In doing so, he’s reminded lawmakers that treating detained kids inhumanely benefits nobody—not the youths themselves, not the adults who are charged with their care, and not the communities to which they will one day return.”

When Human Rights Watch began an investigation of the Men’s Central Jail earlier this year, it found that youths in the jail are generally locked in windowless single cells for 23 1/2 hours each day. In addition to a 30 minute period each day to shower and make telephone calls, they have three hours of recreation once each week in individual rooftop cages containing a pull-up bar and a telephone. Other than these periods, family and attorney visits, and trips to the nurse, they remain in their cells with little or nothing to do.

There is no classroom instruction in the jail; instead, youths see a teacher for five to 15 minutes each through the cell bars two or three times a week. Jail staff told Human Rights Watch that state education laws required only one hour of face-to-face instruction per week, but the jail does not meet even that minimal requirement. In addition, the jail does not make an effort to identify youths with special education needs, in violation of federal law.

Harsh detention conditions may have contributed to three suicide attempts by youths since the end of May. One youth tried to kill himself on June 30. Two others attempted suicide on or about May 24; one of these boys had a history of mental illness and had earlier attempted to kill himself while in police custody following his arrest.

These suicide attempts prompted Stauring to go public with his concerns, suggesting that the suicide attempts were “a direct result of youth routinely being locked in their cells for 23 1/2 hours a day” and urging an end to the “inhumane practice of incarcerating juveniles” in adult jails. In response, the sheriff’s department revoked his clearance to minister at all adult county jails because, it said, he had disclosed confidential information about youths in detention.

Stauring has served as a chaplain at the Central Juvenile Hall in Los Angeles since 1995 and is now co-director of detention ministries for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, a position he has held since January 2003. He also serves as policy director for Faith Communities for Families and Children, a Los Angeles-area interfaith coalition that advocates on behalf of youths in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems.

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