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Juvenile Courthouse Opening Celebrated

Times Staff Writer

Ventura County officials celebrated the opening of a juvenile courthouse in El Rio on Wednesday with laudatory speeches, a marching band and lots of bad hair.

Winds whipped across the front lawn of the limestone-and-glass building during a ceremony marking completion of the long-awaited Steven Z. Perren Juvenile Justice Complex.

“I bet you don’t mind all the hot air today,” quipped Kathy Long, chairwoman of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, one of several dignitaries to speak.

The first phase of the $65-million project, a juvenile detention center, opened a year ago. Depending on funding, an administrative building may be added, officials said.

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The facilities are intended as a one-stop center to replace the rundown and crowded Juvenile Hall in Ventura. Appellate Court Justice Steven Z. Perren, the former Juvenile Court judge for whom the complex is named, called the previous holding facility the “Nightmare on Hillmont Street.”

Perren praised Ventura County officials for proposing and then finding money to build a center that he said will give troubled youths a real shot at turning around their lives.

The complex contains six courtrooms and a 420-bed detention facility with classrooms, common areas and a small recreation yard. An underground tunnel connects the jail to the adjacent courthouse.

“Here is a safe haven for them,” Perren said, referring to the incarcerated youths.

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Ventura County officials proposed the complex nine years ago. In 2001, the state Department of Corrections awarded a $40-million grant to help build it, with the county responsible for the remaining $25 million.

The juvenile courthouse includes a children’s waiting room and a self-help legal center and offers Internet access to the public. The facility also provides legal forms, access to court files and a place to pay traffic tickets.

Judge Brian J. Back, who hears juvenile cases, said that when he looks at the new building, he sees “a court of genuine hope with genuine success stories.”

Most of the youths who land in juvenile jail can be rehabilitated; they just need a mentor, “a guide,” in their life, he said.

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He recounted several thank you notes he had received from detainees after attending a barbecue at their invitation.

One wrote: “Thanks for stopping by to have dinner with us. It makes us feel like you really want us to be successful.”

Another simply wrote: “Thank you for coming. P.S. Nice suit.”

With 800,000 residents, Ventura County is “too big to be a village,” Back said.

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But completion of the complex demonstrates that “we are truly a community,” he added.


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