Once a week, youngsters detained at Sylmar Juvenile Hall take turns filing into a makeshift store, where they trade points earned for good behavior for treats like ice cream sandwiches and magazines.
Juvenile Hall workers call it a good incentive program to get the youngsters to make their beds and stay out of fights.
Some of the 520 minors, whose offenses range from vandalism to murder, say the store provides a welcome relief to life behind locked doors.
"It's nice to get, like, things like Corn Nuts that you aren't used to having," a 14-year-old Montclair boy said. "If you run a good program, you get things. I haven't got in no fights or nothing."
When 20 boys made their weekly trip to the store recently, they were handed a small bag of free popcorn and seated in front of a wall-length shelf filled with neatly stacked magazines and jigsaw puzzles, buckets full of beef jerky and licorice, and rows of trial-size soap, shampoo and lotion. Items are priced anywhere from 10 points for a stick of licorice to 300 points for a box of envelopes. A refrigerator to the side contained freeze pops and ice cream sandwiches for 50 and 60 points apiece.
In twos and threes, they selected their items, with most reaching for the Corn Nuts, red licorice and ice cream.
"I usually get the candy," said an 11-year-old Saugus youngster, who traded in 150 points for a freeze pop and 10 licorice sticks.
Tai Kingi, the facility's program services coordinator, said he re-established the point system earlier this year to help staff who use the store as leverage to get the youngsters to behave, and to reward those who stay in school and assist with odd jobs.
"The county doesn't provide them with snacks and little treats they are normally used to," said Kingi, who relies on fund-raisers and donations to stock the store since no county funds are available. "Not only that, but they earn (the treats). It means a little bit more to them."
Kingi found help from the Sylmar Coordinating Council, which donated money and agreed to serve as a booster club to raise funds and collect toiletries.
"They're going to really help us out a lot," Kingi said.