The county's top prosecutor and other elected officials shared a podium with youthful offenders Friday to oppose state budget cuts that could cripple the state's youth camp system, particularly in Los Angeles County.
The hearing, held at Camp Karl Holton, a juvenile probation camp in the Angeles National Forest north of San Fernando, was called by Assemblywoman Paula L. Boland (R-Granada Hills) in response to Gov. Pete Wilson's decision to cut funding for the camps in his proposed 1995-96 budget.
The cuts would mean closing five of the county's 19 camps, which would affect 1,100 of the county's 2,100 camp inmates. Due to their severity, the cuts have engendered nonpartisan resistance among Los Angeles County legislators.
"The camps do a vital job at keeping kids out of the California Youth Authority, and ultimately prison," said Boland, chair of the state Assembly's Public Safety Committee. "And because of that, we're all better off. These are the people that are going to be running our country."
The assembled officials told Boland and Assembly members Antonio Villaraigosa (D-Los Angeles) and Diane Martinez (D-Monterey Park) that sending juvenile offenders to camps instead of to harsher facilities saves money, helps the teen-agers get caught up with schoolwork and turns the majority of the kids around--which makes the streets safer for everyone.
The camps, designed for nonviolent juvenile offenders, seek to re-integrate the youths into society in part by requiring them to go to camp schools. Some camps, called "boot camps," require the youths to dress in camouflage uniforms and perform military-style drills, aiming to instill them with discipline.
"The camp system gives the system credibility," said Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Martinez. "It gives the minor the chance to catch up educationally, and gives them a chance to change. Without camps, you have to ask yourself, 'Do you take this 15-year-old caught twice with drugs and put him in CYA with murderers and drive-by shooters?' "
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti focused on the nuts-and-bolts law enforcement issues of the camps.
"Mark my words," he said, "if camps close, we'll have more victims of crime. I don't like to say that, but it's a fact. . . . Juvenile probation is absolutely essential if we are going to prevent crime and protect our citizens."
"Many of these young people don't want to be [in camps]," he said. "But certain conditions and situations forced them to commit crimes."
"Don't get me wrong," Garcetti said. "I will prosecute them, and if that means the CYA or state prison, I will put them away. But camps mean hope."
The state had been expected to contribute $14 million of the $63 million budgeted for the county's 19 camps.
If the five county camps are shut down, law enforcement officials would have to decide which youths would be set free, and which would be sent to CYA facilities. The youth authority is generally considered harsher than a camp, in part because the CYA contains hardened offenders while most camp inmates committed nonviolent crimes.
According to Los Angeles County Probation Department statistics, the average stay in a camp is six months and costs $12,000, while the average stay at CYA is 18 months and costs $53,000.
Also, the reading abilities of young offenders increase two grade levels while in camp, and 70% of those who graduate from a county camp are not rearrested as juveniles, according to the probation department.
At Friday's hearing, about a dozen recent graduates of county camps testified, telling stories of abusive and often alcoholic parents, trouble with the law and finally, making a turnaround in camp.
Seventeen-year-old Chris Flores of Arleta, who has been arrested three times--including once for hitting his high school's principal with a car--told the hearing that the 7 1/2 months he spent in a camp changed his life.
"My parents think I'm a different person," he said. "I study full-time, I have two jobs, I've been sober for nine months."
County officials pointed out that the county, facing a possible $1.2-billion deficit, is in a poor position to increase its share of the cost of the camps.
"Our budget problem is very, very serious," said Sally Reed, the county's chief administrative officer. "We're having every county department cut 20%. . . . With our problems, the camps wouldn't still be here if the county didn't value them tremendously, but the county can't do it alone."
Villaraigosa recently introduced a bill which would restore $33 million to the state's probation camps.
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Jails for Juveniles Established as an alternative to the state- run California Youth Authority, Los Angeles County's probation camps provide specialized programs for teen-age offenders 13 to 18. Located in mostly rural areas throughout the county, the 19 facilities are designed for youths convicted of crimes such as assaults, robberies, burglaries, car thefts and drug possession. Five camps may close as a result of proposed budget cuts in the next fiscal year. *
Locations 1. Challenger Memorial Youth Center (6 camps) 2. Camp William Menderhall 3. Camp John Munz 4. Camp Kenyon J. Scudder 5. Camp Joseph Scott 6. Camp Karl Holton 7. Camp Clinton Afflerbaugh 8. Camp Joseph Paige 9. Camp Glenn Rockey 10. Camp Vernon Kilpatrick 11. Camp Fred Miller 12. Camp David Gonzales 13. Dorothy F. Kirby Center 14. Camp Louis Routh Source: Los Angeles County Probation Department