Put a ring around the boys ranch

It’s a twist on a classic case of rural use versus encroaching
development and, in this situation, there’s only one prudent thing
to do: build a fence.
It’s a twist on a classic case of rural use versus encroaching development and, in this situation, there’s only one prudent thing to do: build a fence. If the county doesn’t do that, it will face years of controversy, potential lawsuits and the nagging notion that something far worse could happen when one or more of the juvenile offenders walks away from the William F. James Boys Ranch in Morgan Hill near Cochrane Road at the base of the eastern foothills.

The sheer numbers involved in escape attempts – more than 418 in the last four years – and the knowledge that nearly a third of the 1,068 boys sent to the ranch since 2000 have been convicted of a “serious crime against people,” a category that includes assault with a deadly weapon, demands a new approach. Arsonists, car thieves, date rapists and boys who have committed lewd acts with children under 14 have been incarcerated there.

As much as we’d like to subscribe to the notion of Father Flannigan walking the grounds counseling boys who have missed a step, the statistics and profiles don’t match the image. The boys incarcerated are not beyond rehabilitation, but this isn’t a place housing kids who have knocked someone off a bicycle or picked a schoolyard fight.

A stone’s throw away from the boys ranch, more new homes are going up. One can certainly argue with the city of Morgan Hill’s planning wisdom in all of this, but the truth is the time to make that argument has passed. The situation now is that there are million dollar homes and new residents who are worried about escapees doing harm to their families. Though county officials are quick to point out that no violent or ugly incidents have occurred, some residents are hammering on the theme that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Our version is a little different: a few thousand feet of preventative fence is worth the peace of mind for residents, county officials and ultimately taxpayers who will foot the bill for the lawsuits if the county doesn’t take action. People in the area simply want to feel secure, and that’s reasonable.

Supervisor Don Gage surely understands that even if Sylvia Perez, the supervising attorney for the juvenile unit of the Santa Clara County Public Defender’s office, doesn’t.

“The public doesn’t understand that when we’re talking about adolescent criminal behavior we’re talking about therapeutic approaches,” Perez said. “Punishment has to be related to rehabilitation. We can’t take the ‘lock ’em up’ approach.”

Instituting a lockdown isn’t the answer. No one is suggesting that. But putting up a fence as a deterrent to keep down the absurd number of escape attempts is reasonable beyond any shadow of doubt.

The overriding issue here – beyond rehabilitation or property values – should be public safety.

Having hovering helicopters and pumped-up police dogs in the area hunting for runaways from the ranch should not be a regular occurrence. The county should make a reasonable decision to put up a fence and contain the root of the problem before it mushrooms into something more serious.

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