Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Youth Camps: The Unwisest Cut

March 27, 1993

Crime is a major fear now. Law-abiding citizens want the criminal element kept off the streets. That includes the gangbangers and other offenders who are youthful in name only. Yet delinquents could walk free in large numbers if youth camps fall victim to Los Angeles County's catastrophic fiscal condition.

The county's juvenile probation camps are particularly valuable because they work so well. Most youths in the camps have committed holdups or break-ins. The majority are rehabilitated; few repeat their crimes, according to probation officers' statistics. They learn discipline and job skills during stays that average six months and cost the taxpayers about $14,000 each.

No member of the County Board of Supervisors disputes the worth of the youth camps, but the board cannot ignore a Gargantuan budget deficit, estimated at $1.16 billion and growing. That unimaginable chasm threatens all non-mandated services, no matter how cost-efficient or successful.

The severity of this budget gap requires help from others. The supervisors are not shy about asking. The board has sent a request to Gov. Pete Wilson. But Sacramento is drowning in its own deepening fiscal abyss.

One proposal, AB 799, sponsored by Terry B. Friedman (D-Brentwood), would share the fiscal burden. The measure would mandate a county/state partnership to fund youth camps in all counties. The details, such as how much the state would put up, will be worked out in fiscal committees. Estimates range from $30 million to $40 million. And the federal government will be asked to provide funds earmarked for "boot camps" for young offenders.

Without a commitment soon, the county will have to shut youth camps by May 1. Some of the 2,100 offenders would go to the state-financed California Youth Authority, which operates currently at 140% of intended capacity. Some would be sent to group homes if beds could be found. Others would be sent home.

The colossal budget gaps force a Hobson's choice. Rob some similarly worthy service to keep youth camps open. Close youth camps and face the expense of absorbing offenders into the crowded CYA while letting others go free--a public safety nightmare. Wilson, the Legislature and the supervisors must work to keep the camps open.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|