BYRON -- Two years after a civil grand jury claimed that the youth detention center here should be closed because it was not rehabilitating wards among a litany of other problems, a new group of jurors says the facility is vital to the county and moving in the right direction.
"The first finding and recommendation is 'keep the place open,' and we're thrilled about that," said Philip Kader, head of the Contra Costa County Probation Department, which runs the Orin Allen Youth Rehabilitation Facility.
The new Contra Costa grand jury, however, found deficiencies in the educational offerings at the Bixler Road ranch for boys and said they must be remedied immediately.
"Our report was very favorable," grand jury foreman Lloyd Bell said. "But these were the gaps we saw; a kind of disconnect."
The 2009 jury skewered the facility, accusing it of not rehabilitating wards and having unkept grounds, piled-up debris and old, rusty equipment.
Supporters fought back and said education, social interaction and personal growth help the wards and cannot be obtained at juvenile hall.
They praised the education offered at the ranch's high school, run by the county Office of Education.
The 2011 grand jury found the ranch to be a cost-effective alternative to juvenile hall incarceration.
The county pays $167 per ward at Orin Allen, and $306 per inmate at juvenile hall, according to the grand jury report.
The grand jury recommended that county supervisors search for additional volunteers to assist at the facility.
But the grand jury also found that the educational and vocational offerings at the boys ranch need improvement.
"We'd like them to look at this sooner rather than later," Bell said.
The wards have idle time from the end of school in the early afternoon through the end of the day. This time should be used to integrate their school work into some meaningful activity that would benefit the facility, such as "taking their wood shop skills and utilizing them in practical applications like minor maintenance at the ranch," Bell said.
The report criticized the educational organization at the ranch, and said the county probation department and Office of Education are not on the same page about the level of service that should be provided.
It recommended the two departments work together to come up with a single plan, offer more vocational classes, and include minor repair and maintenance instruction.
Work-experience programs, such as landscaping, cooking and janitorial work, are not consistently offered, while the auto repair program is limited to three months out of the year, the report said.
The grand jury said the animal husbandry program was not as robust as described, and recommended that it find leadership from a local 4H or Future Farmers of America branch.
Kader and Lynn Mackey, the director of student programs at the county Office of Education, agreed with the findings.
"We should take advantage of the youth's time and provide as many opportunities for them as possible," Kader said.
Mackey said that even before the 2011 investigation began, the Office of Education began meeting with the probation department to come up with new vocational offerings.
"We'll be rolling out some vocational classes in the fall," she said.
The classes will include plumbing, electrical skills, green construction and solar power skills, she said.
Contact Roman Gokhman at
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