Discipline Cited as No. 1 Reason Boys Fled From James Boys Ranch

The report will be used to tailor new programs set to begin in
Gilroy – Juvenile offenders ran away from the boys ranch in Morgan Hill because they were upset over disciplinary measures, missed their families, feared they would fail the ranch program and didn’t get along with ranch staff, according to a report released by Santa Clara County probation officials.

The report, based on a survey of 121 wards at the William F. James Boys Ranch on Malaguerra Avenue and the Muriel Wright Center in San Jose, will be used to tailor the new rehabilitative programs set to begin at the juvenile detention facilities in January.

The new programs stress small-group and peer counseling and are intended to cut down runaways and recidivism. Kathy Duque, the county’s deputy probation chief, said the survey highlighted the need to augment the ranch’s punitive measures with a wide range of incentive programs to encourage good citizenship.

“I think the biggest lesson of the survey is that we need to listen to our youth and respond to their needs,” Duque said. “The whole point is to build pro-socialization skills and instill a value system so when they leave the ranch they will think twice about their actions.”

Duque said that probation staff was not surprised by the responses, but the youth’s answers were somewhat different than what staff predicted they would be. In the staff’s view, boys ran from the ranch because they didn’t care about ranch rules and wanted to escape gang tensions. Those reasons ranked considerably lower on the youth responses. Many youth said they would prefer to be held at juvenile hall, even though that facility is more restrictive than the low-security boys ranch.

“It’s very difficult for them to be taken out of their homes and be placed in a structured environment where they actually have to work on their issues,” Duque said. “Youth prefer juvenile hall time because the youth view it as just doing time. The ranch program requires youth to take responsibility for their behavior and work their way towards successful graduation from the program. This is difficult task for many of them.”

To make the ranch programs more attractive to youth, the wards will be given more opportunities to earn points toward privileges and the ability to earn back points they lose for bad behavior.

While probation officials believe the new programs will prevent runaways at the Morgan Hill boys ranch, a fence recently built around the ranch buildings has so far eliminated what had been a considerable problem. There has been just one runaway incident at the ranch since Aug. 1, about the time fence construction began. The ranch had been averaging about 100 runaways a year.

The fence was built after residents of housing developments that have sprouted around the ranch in recent years complained about escaping youths running through the neighborhood. The county initially resisted a fence and experimented with a satellite tracking system. When the electronic surveillance proved inadequate in tests, the fence was built.

Last month, county supervisors approved spending $3.2 million to hire more ranch counselors and implement the new programs.

Reasons for Escape

– Mad about losing points 55%

– Would rather be at juvenile hall 52%

– Don’t get along with staff 51%

– Afraid of failing ranch programs 49%

– Rules change from one staff member to the next 46%

– Miss their families 46%

– Not enough support from staff 45%

– Don’t mind consequences of running 42%

– Unfairly sent to the ranch 42%

– Too many rules 38%

76 wards completed survey; youths could provide more than one reason

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