SANTA ANA — Searching for ways to curb the rise in juvenile crime that has led to severe overcrowding at juvenile correctional facilities, the Orange County Grand Jury has endorsed building a boot camp for youth offenders.
The grand jury recommended the camp move beyond purely militaristic models to offer offenders individual psychotherapy within three to four weeks of incarceration and provide physical training, work detail, substance abuse counseling, education courses and group therapy sessions.
In a report issued Thursday, the 19-person grand jury recommended building the boot camp next to the Youth Guidance Center in Santa Ana, a proposal first made in February by the Orange County Probation Department. The report did not say how much it would cost to build and operate the camp.
The creation of the county's first boot camp, however, probably is a long way off.
"The frustrating thing is we've got a great plan, and it's on the back burner for now--or until some mechanism comes up that will allow us to construct more beds," said Stephanie Lewis, the deputy chief probation officer.
The county will spend about $3 million in the next fiscal year to house juvenile offenders, largely footing the bill for the expansion of the Probation Department's facilities by another 134 beds. But there is no money for a boot camp.
"We do support the premise that this is an important tool for the Probation Department, but $3 million a year is really the extent of our resources right now," Board of Supervisors Chairman William G. Steiner said.
Juvenile crime has been rising steadily in the past five years, swamping the county's four correctional institutions that together are supposed to house 698 youths. Juvenile Hall, for example, was designed to hold 374 inmates, but in March it housed 500.
According to the grand jury report, the juvenile arrest rate for violent felonies has risen 22% during the last five years, more than 117% for felony drug arrests and 266% for misdemeanor arrests for marijuana.
During the first part of 1996, Juvenile Hall was over capacity every day, and estimates show that by 2000 the county will need more than 300 new beds.
A small group of youths who are arrested repeatedly are causing most of the overcrowding, Lewis said. About 70% of youths never return to the system after being arrested, and another 22% return once or twice, she said. Eight percent are hard-core.
"It's that 8% that we're trying to do something about," Lewis said. "They're the ones we have to find a way to keep from coming back."
Boot camps, the grand jury report said, can teach juveniles to have a greater sense of personal responsibility, confidence and self-discipline.
While working on the boot camp proposal, several Orange County officials, including Lewis, traveled to different states to study their programs.
If Orange County's is built, it will be modeled on the Sgt. Henry Johnson Youth Leadership Academy in New York, Lewis said.
"They've taken kids who have had serious delinquency problems, and these kids are doing great things," she said. "We visited them in the institution and in their community setting after they'd gotten released, and these kids are working, they're going to school and they have real refreshing attitudes."
The most successful boot camps are really two programs, the report said--the program in the camp and classes, vocational training and other services after the youths leave.
"The more time a youth spends in both phases of the boot camp program the better the youth's chances of successfully re-integrating into the community," the report said.