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Detention Camp Closures Seen in Governor’s Plan

Times Staff Writer

Youth camps that have effectively rehabilitated many juvenile delinquents will be forced to close under Gov. George Deukmejian’s proposal to cut $36.8 million in state aid to counties, local officials contended Monday.

If the proposal goes into effect, an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 delinquent youths will either be transferred to the California Youth Authority, where incarceration is more costly, or be released back into society. State officials said the cuts would probably hit hardest in Los Angeles County, affecting as many 14 camps and 2,000 youths.

The camp programs generally are not intended for hard-core offenders. This allows the camps to offer a less-restrictive environment than the more security-oriented Youth Authority institutions.

“It’s crazy,” said Assemblyman Terry Friedman (D-Los Angeles), arguing that the budget cuts would force the Youth Authority to invest millions of dollars to build additional facilities.

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“We’re in one of the worst budget predicaments in memory, and here the governor is making a proposal to cut money that will immediately turn around and cost the state three times as much,” he said.

Friedman said the camps have a good record for rehabilitating youths because their relatively small size allows for individual attention.

Widespread Criticism

The cuts, among the most controversial in Deukmejian’s proposed $47.8-billion budget for the fiscal year starting July 1, have drawn criticism from state as well as local officials and at least 24 statewide organizations, including the California Sheriffs Assn., Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the State Parent Teachers Assn. On Monday, the critics took their protests to the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, where they pleaded with lawmakers to overrule the governor’s recommendation.

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The governor’s budget proposal would cut the amount for the County Justice System Subvention Program to $30.4 million from $67.3 million this year. In addition to youth camps and ranches, the program provides subsidies to local governments for Juvenile Court costs and an array of local projects, including anti-drug programs.

Equally as controversial as his budget cuts is Deukmejian’s proposal to finance remaining portions of the program by transferring $30.4 million from surpluses in a fund that pays restitution to crime victims.

The proposal prompted criticism from state Controller Gray Davis, who has led an effort to streamline the program so that victims can be compensated more quickly.

“In the past, the governor has been a supporter of victims. I’m mystified why he made this proposal,” Davis said in an interview. “He’s essentially asking victims to take a back seat to perpetrators. Instead of diverting this money . . . the state should alert all victims of their entitlements under law.”

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Prediction on Vote

Friedman predicted that the Legislature will ultimately vote to restore the $36.8 million in local aid, making funding of the juvenile programs a major battleground in budget negotiations with the governor.

Defending the governor’s proposals, Cynthia Katz, assistant director for the state Department of Finance, said Deukmejian believed the cuts were essential to balance the budget and avoid tax increases.

“The governor has been very much a law-and-order governor. Most of his cuts are coming out of health and welfare, but you can cut only so much out of one area. There are going to have to be cuts all across the board,” she said.

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The governor was advised, she said, that the $30.4 million would cover the cost of mandated programs, such as crisis counseling for juveniles, which the state is required by law to help finance. She said the Administration believed that local governments would probably pick up the costs of the remaining “discretionary” programs, such as the camps.

No Choice

But Barry Nidorf, Los Angeles County’s chief probation officer, said local budget shortages, as well as the state budget cuts, would give him no choice but to recommend that 14 of the county’s 15 juvenile camps be closed. State funds provide about 27% of the money for the camps.

Nidorf said juveniles in the camps would either be sent to the Youth Authority, released to group homes or set free.

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“The taxpayer is going to lose on both ends,” he said. “Those offenders that go to the Youth Authority are going to cost more money. Those that are set free in the community without any time in camp are going to have less of a chance of being rehabilitated, so we lose all the way around.”

It costs the state an average of $25,000 a year to house each juvenile in a Youth Authority facility and local governments an average of $20,000 a year for those housed in camps.

“I have not heard any argument made by the Administration that these camps are ineffective programs,” Friedman said.

“They’re (the governor’s office) just making a foolish decision, which I think was made at the last moment as they tried to patch their budget together.”

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