The report, entitled “County Youth Rehabilitation Center on Life Support: It’s Time To Pull the Plug,” outlines the jury’s investigation into the running of the ranch that sits on 50 acres off Bixler Road. The report highlights deficiencies found by the jury such as rusted kitchen sinks, broken equipment and debris around the property, worn-out mattresses and what jurors say is a lack of rehabilitation of the youths and inadequate treatment programs.
“Members of the jury went out to the ranch (in September) to do a routine inspection and they found it in such deplorable shape that we sent another team out a few days later for a closer look,” said grand jury foreperson Leslie Lea. “Because many of the programs in the (center’s) handbook were also not operational, we came to the conclusion that it would save the county $5 million if it were to close.”
Boys ranch founder Orin Allen said he hasn’t enjoyed a good night’s sleep since the report came out. Calling it “brutal” and “lacking consideration of the human element,” Allen said he was stunned by the report and hopes the ranch will be saved.
“The thing of it all is that there was not one positive word in that report,” said Allen, who founded the minimum-security facility in 1960. “What about all the good, the amazing good, that has come from having this program? Are there things that need to be fixed? Of course, and they are being addressed as we speak. In a perfect world we would have everything exactly as we would like it to be, but if it’s a question of giving up a mental health program or keeping woodshop for the boys, or cleaning up the yard … well, times are tough; we’re doing what we can.”
But according to the report, it’s not enough. The ranch is currently at its 100-resident capacity, and the recommendation from the grand jury is that the boys be housed in juvenile hall in Martinez and the property be put to better use.
The Rev. Dr. Charles Tinley, a Presbyterian minister with the Juvenile Justice Commission, visits the ranch twice a week and believes the property is being put to good use. Closing the facility he says, would be penny-wise and pound-foolish.
“They (grand jury) just don’t seem to understand what the ranch is all about,” said Tinley. “Juvenile hall is jail. There are no programs there to work with the boys and rehabilitate them. The report says that they came out and there were no programs going on – well it was the middle of the day; the boys were in school. To close this facility would be a grave injustice.”
Supervisor Mary Piepho agreed that the facility is a much-valued arm of the juvenile detention system. But while she respects the grand jury’s findings, she believes there are some places where it (the report) misses the mark.
“The grand jury is a watchdog group and they provide a vital service,” said Piepho. “But I don’t entirely agree with their perspective on this and on the human lives it affects. Yes, it’s an aging facility, but maybe there are other solutions. It’s not a solution for the kids out there to be placed in juvenile hall … It (the boys ranch) is not a wasted effort.”
Allen said that since news of the report surfaced, his phone has been ringing off the hook from friends and well-wishers offering their support.
“People are so angry over this,” he said. “I’ve had calls from the public and from former grads who are now living all over the country, asking what they can do. They simply can’t believe this could be true. You know, we’ve had kids go on to be firemen and Caltrans supervisors and CIA employees, and they have all said that they remember their time and experience at the ranch as positive. To close this would be a big step backward. I just cannot believe they would do this.”
The report was filed in March, and the county probation department has 90 days from the date of the report to respond. The report is a scheduled discussion item at the May 5 Board of Supervisors meeting. To view a copy of the grand jury report, visit www.cc-courts.org, go to “jury service” and click on “civil grand jury.” Grand jury reports for 2009 will be posted.