County Probation to Spend $3.2 Million

Money will be used to improve programs and security at two
juvenile detention centers
Gilroy – The Santa Clara County Probation Department has proposed spending $3.2 million to improve programs and security at the county’s two low-security juvenile detention centers.

The plan is a culmination of an effort to reform the county’s juvenile justice system that began nearly a year a go when dozens of Morgan Hill residents complained about a rash of escapes at the William F. James Boys Ranch.

Probation staffers believe the plan’s wide range of rehabilitative services will dramatically lower recidivism and runaways both at the ranch – which houses boys aged 15 to 18 – and the Muriel Wright Center in San Jose, which houses girls and younger boys.

“I’m extremely excited about what it’s going to mean for the young people in our care,” Chief Probation Officer Sheila Mitchell said of the plan that was crafted with input from juvenile justice experts across the country. “We’ve worked extremely hard and we’ve done this in a collaborative way.”

The bulk of the money will go toward beefing up staff at the detention centers to provide more personal and small-group counseling and rehabilitation programs. The plan also calls for a study to determine whether new facilities at the boys ranch would improve the environment and prevent runaways.

Mitchell said a series of new programs will be implemented early next year. Ranch sentences will be based on need and run as long as eight months. Wards currently serve four months.

One element of the boys ranch program that will not change much is the nature of the youths incarcerated. Ranch neighbors were outraged when it was revealed that many of the ranch wards had violent histories, but Mitchell has said that all but the worst cases would still be referred to the ranch.

Greg Claytor, a ranch neighbor who has been a vocal critic of the county and Mitchell, said Friday that recent improvements at the ranch – the county has built a fence around its buildings and several months have passed without an escape – have convinced him that the worst problems have been addressed.

“My biggest concern has always been the lack of security and I think they’ve done a tremendous job of stepping that up,” Claytor said. “If they can continue to do that, I don’t have any problem with the direction probation is going. I give all the credit to Don. He listened to people and when he realized we had a problem he was instrumental in fixing it.”

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