Boys ranch security a top priority

It’s not too surprising that the Santa Clara County Grand Jury
decided to take a close look at the William F. James Boys Ranch in
Morgan Hill, given the shocking number of wards who walk away from
the ranch.
It’s not too surprising that the Santa Clara County Grand Jury decided to take a close look at the William F. James Boys Ranch in Morgan Hill, given the shocking number of wards who walk away from the ranch.

The non-binding recommendations the Grand Jury made are not too surprising, either. The panel advised building a fence, which is under way, as well as increasing community outreach, adding sheriff’s deputy patrols, increasing funding for treatment programs and staff training, and doubling wards’ sentences to 240 days.

While the county is not required to make any changes based on the Grand Jury report, it is required to make a formal response. The informal response from officials, predictably, is to point at red ink.

“If we have the money, we’ll do it, if we don’t, we won’t,” District One County Supervisor Don Gage said.

The idea of increasing sentences, not as a punitive measure, but as a way to ensure that wards have sufficient time to complete rehabilitation programs is sound. The boys ranch is designed as a place to turn boys away from a life of crime before it’s too late. If those programs need to be improved, as the Grand Jury suggests, then we have a hard time thinking of a higher priority for county funds.

That County Executive Pete Kutras, a Morgan Hill resident, is thinking in terms of rehabilitation for the youthful offenders sent to the James Boys Ranch is encouraging.

“It’s a balance of security and rehabilitation, and I’m not going to pay for sheriff’s deputies I don’t need if we need to be putting money into rehabilitation,” Kutras said.

One factor that greatly influences rehabilitation that the Grand Jury did not address is the type of offenders who are sent to the boys ranch. We urge the county to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that boys who have realistic prospects of rehabilitation are not housed with boys who, sadly, are past that point. Co-mingling these types of inmates only diminishes prospects of successful rehabilitation for the boys who can benefit from the ranch’s programs the most.

Whether it’s improving relationships with county judges or lobbying Sacramento for clear sentencing guidelines, county officials should put their political muscle behind ways to ensure that the right wards are sent to the James Boys Ranch.

The Grand Jury’s report might not be binding, but the county’s duty to the community and to the juvenile offenders sent to the James Boys Ranch certainly is. With limited resources and opposing agendas to balance, it’s a difficult – but critical – task.

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