Several Upgrades Pushed for O.C. Juvenile Services

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Orange County's juvenile justice system needs better facilities, accredited classes and a number of other improvements, according to a report released Wednesday.

"Part of rehabilitation is to provide a structure and environment that will make these kids good citizens when they are back in the community," said Joe Boyle, a member of the Orange County Grand Jury, which began studying the system last fall.

The report says Juvenile Hall in Orange, the largest and oldest of the county's eight youth facilities, needs interior paint, upgraded air-conditioning and heating systems, and new carpeting in classrooms.

"It's beautiful from the outside but when you go inside, it's torn apart," Boyle said after the report was released.

Juvenile Hall, which is 43 years old, is scheduled for its fourth expansion in 2005, said Thomas Wright, chief deputy of institutional services at the Orange County Probation Department. Initially built to accommodate 150 juveniles, it now has 444, he said. In all, 1,300 students attend classes at the county's juvenile institutions.

The grand jury report also recommends more office space for teachers and an updated collection of library books.

"It's more than just putting books in," Boyle said. "It's how timely are the books and the kinds of books available. We don't feel it's up to standards."

Wright said funding is a big drawback to modernizing libraries, especially at the Joplin Youth Center in Trabuco Canyon and Los Pinos Conservation Camp in Lake Elsinore, which have only donated books.

Lack of funding also means that at some facilities, teachers and principals act as counselors too, officials said.

"Our biggest focus is on classroom instruction, materials and helping kids catch up," said Ted Price, director of alternative and correctional schools and services. "We feel those functions can be handled by administrators."

Many of the grand jury's recommendations are already underway. For instance, the Orange County Department of Education is applying for accreditation from the Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges, has hired a librarian and has opened a new library at the Youth Guidance Center in Santa Ana.

Additional training for teachers is also being offered.

The grand jury called on the county Board of Supervisors to allocate funds for the recommended improvements.

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