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Camp Glenn Rockey Gives Juvenile Inmates a Chance to Change

April 30, 1989|ANNETTE KONDO

It has been a year since Nick has been near the angry guns and knives of his neighborhood. It has been a year in which his mind and body have been cleansed of PCP, cocaine and alcohol. The explosive bouts of anger are gone. He is on the honor roll at school.

For Nick, 17, who was convicted of vandalism and possession of guns and knives, school is Camp Glenn Rockey, a Los Angeles County juvenile probation camp in San Dimas.

"I'm scared to get back out," said Nick, who has spent the last year at the camp. "I don't have anyone to tell me to do things. No one is going to tell me when to eat and how to line up or to go to school."

Situated on an eight-acre wooded hilltop that overlooks the Pomona Valley, Camp Glenn Rockey might be mistaken for a private boys school. But its rigid morning-to-night schedule and strict adherence to a merit system dispels any such impression.

Each youth is assigned to a 10- or 12-member group: the Jets, Vikings, Chargers or other squads named for football teams. The groups are diverse, made up of teen-agers with different criminal histories, racial backgrounds and gang affiliations, to make it easier to maintain harmony in the camp. For the length of their stay, the boys eat, sleep and line up for roll call as a group.

Disciplined Regimen

Nick and other juvenile offenders at the camps are thrust into a boot camp-like regimen of discipline, counseling, school and work. Most of the youths are in the camps for at least six months. For many of them, probation camp is the first place they've ever been where every hour of the day is structured and nearly every aspect of their behavior is monitored.

As wards of the Juvenile Court, these youths are considered good candidates for rehabilitation and have been sent to one of the county's 15 camps instead of the more hard-core facilities of the California Youth Authority.

There are dozens of youths with troubled backgrounds like Nick's among the 125 adolescents, ages 16 to 18, housed at Camp Glenn Rockey. One of the county's four maximum security camps, Glenn Rockey is bounded by a 14-foot-high fence and has a 20-bed solitary confinement unit.

Many of the youths have a history of serious crime and may have been sent from one of the county's 10 camps for juveniles who committed less-dangerous crimes.

Gov. George Deukmejian has proposed cutting $36.8 million in state aid to counties, and if the governor prevails, Los Angeles County probation officials say they will have to close all but one of the camps.

'Graduate School of Crime'

"The majority of kids would have to be returned to the community," said Gene De Soto, deputy director of the Residential Treatment Services Bureau, which oversees the county camps. He said a small number of youths would go to CYA, which he described as the "graduate school of crime." The young people who come out of CYA, he said, are "sophisticated and hardened."

Originally established in 1931 as part of the federal Civilian Conservation Corps, Camp Glenn Rockey is the oldest juvenile camp in the county. Camp Director Warren Foster remembers when Glenn Rockey was a "healthy drive from anywhere" in the 1950s and there was "no freeway, just two-lane farm roads and a lot of vegetable stands.

Today rural fields and horses have been replaced by new housing tracts and commuter traffic. Two years ago, the camp met its first neighbors--a development of homes just a stone's throw to the east of the camp.

San Dimas Mayor Terry Dipple acknowledged that a few homeowners have complained about lights from the camp at night and occasional excessive noise, but he said he opposes closing the camps if it means returning the youngsters to their neighborhoods.

"They were put there for a reason because they broke the law, so I am opposed to putting them back on the street," Dipple said. "As a maximum-security camp it should be the last one to be closed. (Closing it) could have a serious impact on crime in the entire area."

Ann Vackrinos, who has lived next to Glenn Rockey for two years and thinks of it more as a boys' school than a probation camp, also opposes any closures that would send some of the youths home. "I don't think they ought to be removed unless there was a place to put them."

Foster says part of the funding threat is that too many people are not aware of the camp and its purpose.

"Cops are glad to get these kids off the street, principals are glad to get them out of school and neighbors are happy they aren't breaking into their homes," he said. "But we are like a poor relative. They send us cards once in awhile, but they don't visit us."

Lasting and Positive Effect

Glenn Rockey officials and counselors say the juvenile camps can make a lasting and positive effect on young offenders. Their belief in the camp's effect on the teen-agers is based on years of personal follow-up of former inmates.

"Maybe they won't commit a crime, or do it as often," said Terry Lund, a deputy probation officer who counsels and supervises inmates.

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