LOS ANGELES (AP) — The cost of locking up young criminals in Los Angeles County has soared while their number has dwindled, an audit found.

The cost of incarcerating a youth averaged $640 a day for juvenile hall and $552 a day for a youth camp, according to last year’s study. By comparison, the costs were $351 and $307 in San Diego County; $497 and $284 in Orange County; and $232 and $272 in Harris County, Texas.

The figure to put a youngster in LA County’s juvenile hall worked out to $233,600 a year, while it might run $204,400 in Chicago and $84,680 a year in Houston, according to the audit figures.

The costs have risen sharply, and the county continues to operate three juvenile halls and 18 camps even though the number of youths detained under the county’s probation department has dropped from 17,000 in 2011 to just 9,000 last year.

“We probably need to start considering closures,” interim probation department head Cal Remington told the Los Angeles Times for an article published Tuesday.

The department has indicated one reason for the increase is that the U.S. Department of Justice has required higher staff-to-youth ratios at the halls and camps.

The Justice Department began investigating conditions in the facilities in 2006 after repeated reports that youths were mistreated. The probation department agreed to reforms in 2008. Last year federal officials ended six years of special oversight.

The department has said that the mental health, health and educational services required under the agreement are more intensive and costlier than those for other California counties.

However, the county audit also indicated there was room to more accurately identify costs and expenses for the juvenile facilities.

“There is so much waste,” Jacqueline Caster, one of 15 members of the L.A. County Probation Commission, told the Times. “And no one pays attention or cares.”

Meanwhile, a proposal to split the probation department into two separate parts for minors and adults is gaining steam among elected officials and juvenile justice reform advocates. The county Board of Supervisors took a step toward examining the idea last week.

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