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A Future for the Kirby Center?

Among the painful budget decisions facing the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday is the future of the Dorothy Kirby Center, the county’s only locked treatment facility for emotionally disturbed teen-agers who have committed crimes. It now serves 100 teen-agers--including troubled runaways, first-time murderers, arsonists, sex offenders, drug abusers, burglars and prostitutes. Most are gang members, a group with which the center has been particularly effective. Those at the center live in small, safe, drug-free cottages for eight months. They attend group therapy five days a week, including one session with their parents participating.

Closing the program at Kirby, as recommended by a hard-pressed Los Angeles County Probation Department, would save $2.74 million. It would also send disruptive youngsters who desperately need intensive treatment to a California Youth Authority camp, which offers less treatment and substitutes a dormitory for the cottages.

Saving Kirby won’t be easy, but the probation department union has elicited support from Assemblymen Burt Margolin (D-Los Angeles) and Terry B. Friedman (D-Tarzana) to try to find additional state funding for the 25-year-old facility when the Legislature convenes again. The success of their efforts depends on the willingness of the supervisors to find temporary funding while the search for new state money is implemented.

As the supervisors confront the multimillion-dollar shortfall, nothing is sacred--not even public safety provided by the Fire and Sheriff’s departments. As services are slashed in department after department, everyone stands to lose. But there is no alternative.

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The crisis was created by the failure of Gov. George Deukmejian and the California Legislature to provide full funding for the trial courts and for mandated services. This failure is forcing false economies--budget cuts that will serve only to raise the cost of government later.


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