Plan to Shift Drug Funds to Youth Camps Decried : Finances: County’s rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul strategy could shut 200 treatment, education and prevention programs, it is feared.


Thousands of substance abusers would be unable to get treatment for their dependencies under a proposal by Los Angeles County that would take nearly $12 million from drug and alcohol programs to keep the county’s 19 juvenile probation camps open, critics of the move said Friday.

The funding shift, one of several strategies being considered as a way to keep the camps open past July 1, could force many of the 200 treatment, education and prevention programs to shut down altogether, said Al Jeffries, executive director of the Van Nuys office of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

“This is one of those ideas where you rob Peter to pay Paul,” said Jeffries, whose agency provides treatment, education and prevention services to about 15,000 people annually in the San Fernando Valley. “It just seems like there’s got to be a better way.”


The county’s probation camps provide a structured alternative to unsupervised probation or the California Youth Authority for about 4,500 juveniles annually who are convicted of offenses ranging from shoplifting to rape and assault. But the county, facing a $1.5-billion budget shortfall, needs to find $60 million if it is to keep the camps open past the end of the fiscal year.

The County Board of Supervisors had earlier instructed its staff to work with state officials to find the money for the camps. The response, made public by critics Friday, was a proposal sent to state officials April 22 that would use state and federal drug and alcohol funds to keep the camps operating by setting up residential treatment programs for the juvenile offenders at the camps.

County budget officials were not available Friday to comment on the issue.

But critics said the plan comes on top of proposed state budget cuts in alcohol and drug funds and would have a catastrophic impact on many local programs, including those that provide methadone treatment, alcohol outpatient counseling and alcohol and drug inpatient treatment.

“The real issue is whether or not many programs would continue to exist,” said Larry Gentile, president and chief executive officer of Behavioral Health Services of Gardena.

Gentile’s company operates one of only two alcohol-detoxification programs in the county. Now “it takes anywhere from three to 10 days just to get into the place,” he said. About 4,000 fewer people would be admitted each year if the budget cuts go through.

County Chief Administrative Officer Harry Hufford recently asked Patrick Ogawa, the county’s interim head of alcohol and drug programs, to analyze the impact of the funding move. The county’s substance-abuse programs were then told their funding would be cut as much as 42% under the draft proposal.


The county’s budget for Kazi House in South Los Angeles, for example, would drop from $759,000 to $340,000 if both state budget cuts and the county shift occur. That would reduce the residential drug-treatment program from 13,800 to 7,600 “bed days,” denying service to hundreds of drug addicts.

In response to the proposed budget cuts, the county Commission on Alcoholism wrote to the Board of Supervisors, saying that it was “opposed to these potentially disastrous cuts.”

“We’re not in any way implying that the youth camps should have their funds restricted,” said Commission member Charles G. Rubin, a Beverly Hills Municipal Court judge. “The question is, do you cut off your right arm to save your left arm? Or do you instead . . . look to leaving both arms intact and look to less necessary sources of funds to find relief for the problem?”

Chief Probation Officer Barry S. Nidorf said he hasn’t endorsed the funding shift, although he did sign the proposal sent to the state.

“When I suggested using alcohol and drug money, as appropriate, in my mind it was to get the state and the federal government to increase the money available . . . not to take it away from other programs,” Nidorf said. The state would have to approve such a shift in the use of funds designated for drug and alcohol programs.

Other proposals to fund the camps include a bill by Los Angeles Assemblyman Terry B. Friedman (D-Brentwood) to allocate $33 million from the state’s general fund for such camps throughout the state. Supervisor Gloria Molina has suggested raising court fees to pay for probation camps.


Dawson Oppenheimer, a spokesman for Supervisor Mike Antonovich, a strong backer of the youth camps, said the funding shift is a suggestion from Hufford’s office. “We are certainly very, very concerned with finding the revenues to keep the probation camps open and . . . we would examine everything that would support this effort,” he said. “But I don’t think Mike knows enough about this particular proposal.”