VisionQuest, the controversial outdoor rehabilitation program for juvenile offenders, would be authorized to operate in California under a bill approved Monday by the Assembly Committee on Public Safety.
The state Department of Social Services in March denied the Arizona-based program a license to start camps in San Diego County and three other California areas.
Despite reservations expressed earlier by the Department of Social Services, probation officers and the American Civil Liberties Union, the bill by Assemblyman Larry Stirling (R-San Diego) directing the California Youth Authority to establish standards for “wilderness programs” such as VisionQuest was approved on the committee’s consent calendar.
Stirling had said earlier that he might offer several amendments to the bill, responding to some concerns that have been raised, before it is ready for final passage.
But he said his major purpose in pushing the bill, which was introduced April 7, was to create a mechanism in California to allow for juvenile rehabilitation programs that are not “in a fixed base with buildings with a fence around them.”
VisionQuest, which uses camps and wagon trains, already operates in Arizona, New Mexico and Pennsylvania. The Arizona-based program emphasizes rigorous outdoor activity and offers what some regard as harsh discipline to motivate wayward youths.
Hundreds of San Diego County juveniles have been sent to VisionQuest camps in other states during the last four years under a contract between the county and VisionQuest. The cost is nearly $30,000 per juvenile per year, 25% more than local rehabilitation programs.
In February, a Chula Vista couple, Gerardo and Elisa Cano, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against VisionQuest and San Diego County, which had sent their 16-year-old son to the program’s minimum-security camp near Silver Spring, N.M. Mario Cano died of a blood clot four days after he arrived at the camp.
Program operators said the death resulted from an injury the boy received before he arrived at the camp. A New Mexico grand jury has cleared the program of criminal intent in the death.