The Orin Allen Youth Rehabilitation Facility (OAYRF), more commonly known as the Byron Boys Ranch, may close its doors next month due to COVID-19-related budgetary concerns, but a grassroots group is calling upon the county board of supervisors to save the longtime center.
Arthur Fernandez and Bob Viator are part of the effort to convince the county board of supervisors to keep the ranch open, believing that its long-term benefits outweigh short-term budget concerns. They, and many others, feel relocating the program to juvenile hall, a locked institution with cellblocks, will not preserve its ideals, and could negatively affect how residents respond to the curriculum. They are concerned that, despite their efforts and data supporting the success of institutions like OAYRF, the probation department has already decided to close the ranch, and the board of supervisors will go along.
The facility opened in 1960 and can house up to 100 young men in a low-security program designed to help rehabilitate boys who have committed nonviolent crimes. The boys take high school classes, gain work experience and receive counseling.
“The OAYRF has helped rehabilitate an exorbitant number of youths in its 60-year history,” said Fernandez, who is also a probation supervisor at the ranch. “We also have a direct connection with the East County community by serving as volunteers for numerous community civic groups such as the East Contra Costa Historical Society, the Discovery Bay Lions Club and the Oakley Relay for Life group.”
Currently, the county board of supervisors is considering shuttering the ranch, due to its noncentral location, low number of residents — only 18 as of last week — and high maintenance costs.
“We are talking about our budget, and I’m not sure if we will officially vote to close it, but we are exploring the idea,” District 3 Supervisor Diane Burgis said. “We are exploring all of our options as far as budgets go and for the probation department, that is one item they want to put forward.”
Burgis, as the area’s county supervisor, has toured both the OAYRF and juvenile hall in Martinez, where the ranch’s programming would move were the facility to close. A wing of juvenile hall in Martinez is a far cry from the open country feel of the ranch, according to some.
“The boys love the setting there, the grounds,” Fernandez said, adding they contribute to the facility’s upkeep. “There’s all this nature there they will lose. They all grew up in concrete jungles, and this is their first experience of something else. I just don’t see how we can re-create that feeling inside of a locked facility.”
Viator of Walnut Creek is part of the Rossmoor Senior Tutors and has volunteered at the boys ranch for 15 years. His role is that of a mentor, engaging with the ranch’s residents and offering them a glimpse of a life not riddled with crime. He said despite a lack of statistics, he believes the ranch works.
“The boys’ ranch gives the boys freedom,” Viator said. “Essentially, there’s no barbed wire so they have the choice to run away or stay there and redeem themselves ... otherwise they know they are going to end up in a life of crime with repeated stints in prison, as their fathers, uncles, older cousins have done. They are desperate to succeed.”
Viator said the freedom to move around and the one-on-one sessions with counselors, psychologists and tutors like himself teach the ranch’s residents how to get on a path to make something of themselves.
“When kids leave, they know what they need to do to turn their lives around and they have a different attitude as they are leaving,” he said.
Burgis said her goal is to absorb the data and ensure she is making the correct decision for the boys affected by the programming.
“I’m looking forward to the discussion, and my goal will be what can we do that will be the best for those kids we are serving,” she said.
To contact the Board of Supervisors about this issue, email them at email@example.com or write them at 11780 San Pablo Ave., Suite D, El Cerrito, California 94530.