When I was doing juvenile prosecution, I had occasion to go on a tour of the then-California Youth Authority facility in Stockton. During the tour, we saw a minor in a stark, cinder-block-walled cell. There was a stainless steel institutional toilet-sink unit in one corner and a bare mattress on the floor, without any bedding. The minor was wearing only a pair of boxer shorts. Nothing else was in the cell.
A member of our group asked why the minor was only wearing boxer shorts, and the guide replied, "It took him a month to earn the boxer shorts."
This reflects one extreme in the treatment of juvenile offenders. The other extreme -- doing nothing -- isn't acceptable, either.
Reports of the abuse of minors in out-of-home juvenile treatment facilities are reaching epidemic proportions. Some reports are never substantiated, but there are enough reports to cause concern. It's easy to deal with such information in a passive manner, but when your child is made a ward of the court and subject to the care and control of the local probation department, you want the best shake possible.
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The Merced County Probation Department has a well-thought-out program that provides for the orderly and effective treatment of minors in its locked facility at the Iris Garrett Juvenile Center. When the juvenile court makes a disposition order (called a sentencing in adult court), it can send the minor to the Bear Creek Academy at the Garrett Juvenile Center and order the minor to complete the academy, assuming the underlying offense is serious enough for the court to make such an order.
The court order may be for a minimum of
30 or 60 days, depending on the recommendation of the Probation Department and the decision of the Juvenile Court judge. The minimum time in confinement is 30 or 60 days -- but the maximum time is up to the minor.
They can earn the points needed for release by keeping their living areas clean, attending schooling provided by the county office of education, showing respect for others, doing assigned work details and behaving well.
If the minors choose to do nothing or not go along with the program, they are simply making a choice to stay in the program longer. They'll get the message soon enough and start earning points toward release. Points also can be lost; the staff can remove points for inappropriate behavior. Minors soon learn that good conduct and citizenship get rewarded.
Once the minors complete the program at Bear Creek Academy, they are released back into the community with close probation supervision. The closeness of the treatment program to the family and community avoids the "out of sight, out of mind" problems when the minor is sent away from the community for rehabilitation.
But the nice thing about this local treatment program is knowing that good behavior and good citizenship are earning a timely release back into the community rather than simply earning the right to wear underwear.
Bultena, a retired Merced County deputy district attorney, is a former visiting editor. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.