Ventura County has received a federal grant of nearly $1 million that could help ease crowding at Juvenile Hall, but there's a catch:
Juvenile justice experts and the Board of Supervisors must figure out how to pay for the "free money."
If accepted, the $865,000 grant would start a juvenile offenders boot camp for youths from Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.
The money would expand Los Prietos Boys Camp, 20 miles north of Santa Barbara, from 56 beds to 80 beds. Twenty of those beds would go to Ventura County youth, with the rest divided between youngsters from Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.
"We need the beds," said Ventura County Supervisor Frank Schillo, who supports the idea. The Board of Supervisors, which must approve acceptance of the grant, is expected to decide the issue next month.
To get the grant, Ventura County would have to come up with $144,000. The boot camp would also cost Ventura County an additional $350,000 annually to help maintain the facility, which would house non-violent juvenile inmates for up to four months.
"We think the grant is good news," said Calvin Remington, deputy director of the Ventura County Corrections Services Agency. "We have to do something about our Juvenile Hall overcrowding."
The 84-bed Clifton Tatum Center in Ventura routinely houses 110 to 115 inmates a day, Remington said. But the need for county money comes at a time when the supervisors are grappling with a $38-million annual budget deficit.
"We are dealing with a great number of variables and too little money," said Ventura County Superior Court Judge Steven Z. Perren, who hears Juvenile Court cases.
And while he agreed Juvenile Hall is desperately overcrowded, Perren warned against quickly buying into the "cure du jour" of juvenile offenders boot camps.
"For some kids it will be very helpful," Perren said. "But you are not going to turn around a troubled kid in 120 days."
The Santa Barbara camp would copy military boot camps, which stress discipline and adherence to a strict regimen of exercise, work and study.
Both Perren and Remington serve on the county's Inter-Agency Juvenile Justice Council, which is scheduled to submit a recommendation on the crowding problem to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors for its approval.
The boot camp is one of the options the council will consider, Remington said. And for all its drawbacks--including the cost and the distance parents would have to travel to visit their children--Remington said he probably will lobby the Board of Supervisors to accept the grant.
"We are able to get 20 beds in an awfully fast period of time," Remington said. "That's hard to beat at this point."
Santa Barbara officials said they can renovate the Los Prietos Boys Camp in 18 months.
Remington said Ventura County officials are looking to couple the boot camp with an after-care program that would require inmates to attend school and counseling sessions during the day and go home at night.
Ventura County Supervisor Susan Lacey also sits on the juvenile justice council and will help draft the panel's recommendation. She said it is too early to know if the grant is good news for Ventura County.
"All we have done is talk preliminarily," Lacey said. "We have not spent any time studying it."
If Ventura County rejects the grant, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties would also lose. Officials with the U. S. Department of Justice said the three counties were awarded the grant largely because they applied as a block.
"These grants are highly competitive," said Harri Kramer, a spokeswoman with the Justice Department.
"I know there are no guarantees," said Susan Gionfriddo, chief probation officer for Santa Barbara County. "But I think Ventura County will approve this."