$3.2 Million Plan to Revamp Boys Ranch Approved

The plan is a culmination of efforts to reform the county’s
juvenile justice system that began nearly a year ago
San Jose – A $3.2 million program to revamp the way the county rehabilitates juvenile offenders was approved Tuesday by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.

The plan is a culmination of an effort to reform the county’s juvenile justice system that began nearly a year ago when dozens of Morgan Hill residents complained about a rash of escapes at the William F. James Boys Ranch, which houses offenders between the ages of 15 and 18.

“When we went into this we recognized that there were significant problems we had to resolve. The fence was only a part of that,” Supervisor Don Gage said Tuesday, referring to the fence recently constructed around the buildings at the low-security facility. “There were other reasons why these kids were running away. We want to be able to move them back into society where they can be productive.”

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

The decision to raise the facilities annual budget from $8.9 million to $12.6 million and add staff comes at a time when the county is wrestling with a projected $111 million deficit and anticipating staff layoffs.

Supervisor Pete McHugh said he believed it will be the only significant budget increase in the next year.

Supervisor Jim Beall called the decision a necessary gamble.

“It’s a risk we have to take,” he said. “We have to take a chance to see if we can get the results.”

The result, as envisioned by Chief Probation Officer Sheila Mitchell, is a dramatic reduction in the county’s youth recidivism rate. Currently, four out of 10 juvenile offenders return to the county’s justice system.

“More times than not they go deeper into our system, which is more expensive than the ranch,” Mitchell said. “This is not only about staffing, but re-engaging youth back into the community.”

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