MODESTO — Officials are getting ready to open a $22 million facility designed to rehabilitate young people who are sentenced for criminal offenses.
Most of the money to build the Stanislaus County Juvenile Commitment Facility on Blue Gum Avenue came from the government effort to realign juvenile justice in California.
It puts more emphasis on reforming youth offenders through education, vocational programs and mental health counseling.
Officials said the county's 158-bed Juvenile Hall isn't well-suited for that purpose.
"This is a more hopeful place," said Patty Hill Thomas, assistant chief executive officer for the county, who led a tour of the facility last week. "There needs to be a safe place to do these programs, and finally it is here."
In June, the county will move boys and girls who are court- sentenced into the 60-bed center, which has classrooms, a culinary training kitchen, occupational training rooms with computer hookups, a gymnasium and recreation yard.
The 47,000-square-foot center adjacent to Juvenile Hall is enclosed by a tall fence with razor wire. But the units to house groups of 15 or 30 juveniles are designed to soften the institutional environment.
The center will house teens ages 14 to 17 who are convicted of crimes such as assault, burglary, auto theft or drug violations. They will be placed in the center based on their criminal history, maturity and program needs, officials said.
Jill Silva, the county's chief probation officer, said most of the youth offenders will spend six months to a year in the commitment center. The state requires them to spend part of that time learning math, reading and other subjects taught in schools.
They will put on baking hats to learn cooking skills in the culinary training kitchen. The county spent $516,000 to equip the center with ovens, mixers and other commercial appliances. Officials hope the teens acquire job skills they can use to work for catering services or restaurants.
The Stanislaus County Office of Education will run the occupational program. County leaders want to know if it's feasible for the teens to take over the food preparation serv-ice for the commitment center and Juvenile Hall.
Silva said her department is looking for community partners to develop occupational training in other fields. Two ideas are computer repair and landscaping. The center's training rooms have versatile workstations with outlets for computers or other devices.
Visiting in the gym
Another feature of the center is a multipurpose gymnasium, which also will serve as the family visitation center for minors in Juvenile Hall and the commitment facility. Staff will screen visitors in the lobby and then escort them to tables in the visitation area. The system should prevent contraband from being passed to minors, officials said.
By reducing the population in Juvenile Hall, the county plans to move 28 staff positions to the new center. Juvenile Hall also is used for overnight stays for young offenders who are arrested and others who are waiting for court dates.
At one time, a minor with multiple convictions for car theft could be sent to a state youth detention center. But youth offenders are now the responsibility of counties, except for those found guilty of the most serious crimes such as murder or rape.
Silva said the county has sent some minors to out-of-state group homes if the court has ordered them separated from their families and they couldn't be placed in local group homes. Some of them could be returned to benefit from services at the new commitment center.
The Stanislaus center will house up to 45 boys and as many as 15 girls in separate units.
To design and build the center, the county was awarded $18 million from the state and used $6 million in local matching funds. The project was completed more than $2 million under budget.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2321.