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Youth Work Program Moves to Camarillo


With construction of a new juvenile detention center still years away, Ventura County probation officials cut the ribbon on a new home for nonviolent offenders at Camarillo Airport on Thursday, one they hope will ease overcrowding in the county's tight quarters.

"We see this as a stopgap measure," said Cal Remington, chief probation officer for the county. "It's not going to stop the problem of overcrowding. What we need is the large juvenile justice complex."

The $2-million renovation, in the works for three years, transfers the county's work program for youth offenders from its home in Ventura to the new 40-bed facility and also expands counseling and vocational services.

A first group of young offenders will arrive at the new facility next week. The renovated building was formerly used by the adult work furlough program and has been empty for some time.

In Ventura, the juvenile program had room for only 24 offenders and included girls. The teenage girls who are currently serving their time will continue to do so at Colston Youth Center in Ventura.

The program gives nonviolent male offenders--typically those who pleaded guilty to property crimes and were sentenced to up to four months in detention--a chance to work for a paycheck, 80% of which goes to paying back their victims.

"Everyone's excited about this new building," said Robert Calderon, a corrections services officer who led tours Thursday of the building's sleek, new interior. "This is the state-of-the-art we've been waiting for."

At the Camarillo quarters, Calderon said, the rules will be stricter than those at the facility in Ventura, calling for youth offenders to participate in morning calisthenics, anger management classes and parental responsibility counseling.

"They'll be busy from the moment they wake up until the moment they go to bed," he said.

The program will also offer drug counseling, in cooperation with Miracle Recovery Centers based in Ventura.

"I'm thinking about how wonderful this facility would be for adult treatments," said Miracle Recovery Executive Director Brenda Davis after a tour. "It's so gorgeous and well-organized."

The building includes classrooms, dorm-like rooms and a recreation area.

Remington said the Camarillo site is fine for now. But he and other probation officials are looking ahead to 2003 when the planned juvenile justice complex is expected to be nearing completion. A year ago, the state awarded Ventura County a $40.5-million grant to construct a new juvenile hall designed to house up to 420 offenders, more than twice the number currently housed.

But, building the center, which would also include administrative offices and juvenile courts, could be more expensive because of a recent downgrading of the county's credit rating by Moody's Investor Services. The New York firm's markdown means the county will be required to pay higher interest rates when taking out bonds to finance construction.

County Auditor Tom Mahon has said that he still hopes to upgrade the county's long-term rating before it affects the $63.5-million juvenile facility. The county is required to finance about $23 million of the cost.

"We're concerned that the price tag could be higher," said Remington. "But, it's going to get done."

For now, though, probation officers and counselors said they felt like they had been blessed with this new medium-security facility.

"I feel we can really reach a lot of kids here," said Aubrey Towler, program director for Stages, a drug recovery program. "It's really a captive audience."

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