Sacto 9-1-1
June 26, 2009
Update: 48 youthful offenders furloughed as center closes

From Bill Lindelof:

A judge granted early furloughs Friday to 48 of the 63 wards of the Warren E. Thornton Youth Center as the juvenile lock-up closes after four decades, the victim of county budget cuts.

Another 15 youths were ordered house at Juvenile Hall, pending further hearings to determine their next commitment, said Probation Department spokeswoman Erin Treadwell. She said those hearings will be next week.

The wards granted furloughs must adhere to the conditions of furlough and will be supervised by Juvenile Field Probation Officers, Treadwell said. They will also continue to receive treatment services in the community, she said.

But the center will be missed, Treadwell said. "It has been very valuable."

During protracted budget wrangling, the county probation department was able to keep open the Boys Ranch but couldn't salvage the Thornton Center, which houses younger, less sophisticated offenders.

The average age of wards at Thornton was 13 to 16 years old for boys and up to 18 for girls.

On Friday, a courtroom was set up at the center so that the 65 young people wouldn't have to be transferred to juvenile court.

Cases came before the court where a public defender, deputy district attorney, probation officials, the judge and parents were present.

Best options were be explored for each ward, Treadwell said.

The building will be closed Tuesday, but the county needed a few days to prepare the facility for final closure so the youth were being transferred on Friday.

The facility is not far from Juvenile Hall on Branch Center Road near Bradshaw Road and Highway 50. Offenders at the center were typically incarcerated for robbery, drug offenses, auto theft and assault.

Treadwell said closing Thornton posed less of a public-safety risk from the facility's wards than would arise from closing Boys Ranch.

Working with the wards at a young age at the center gave probation a good chance to put them on the right path, Treadwell said.

While at Thornton Center, young offenders got treatment for mental health, anger management and drug addiction.

The youths also attended school. And if they progressed well through the program, they could go home on weekends.

The Thornton Center operated with locked doors but Boys Ranch and Juvenile Hall have higher security precautions.

The county must keep Juvenile Hall open since it is where youthful offenders who've committed the most serious criminal acts are incarcerated.

Closing the 110-bed Thornton facility, which has been in service 41 years, will save $8.9 million.

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