San Diego County completed the new Youth Transition Campus in Kearny Mesa Friday, providing what county officials say is intended to be a more therapeutic, rehabilitative campus for youths following juvenile court sentencing.
The campus is where youth, ages 13 to 20, will reside after a true finding in juvenile court, and are committed to time in custody. Staff and 12 youth will move in the first week of February with more youth transitioning throughout the month.
“Youth who make poor decisions should be given an opportunity to turn their life around,” said Nathan Fletcher, chairman of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. “We want to help them avoid a lifetime of incarceration and find a path of meaning and purpose.”
“This new campus is a place where young people who want to change their circumstances can receive the encouragement, treatment, education, support and skills they need to get on a path to a better future,” he said.
The original 1950s-era juvenile facility was transformed across its 12 acres on the southern part of the County Juvenile Hall property. Eight housing units that accommodate 96 beds are organized along an tree-lined pathway with an open courtyard that includes basketball courts, handball courts, garden space and an amphitheater and stage. Along the other side of the courtyard is the main large visitation and dining building that includes a culinary arts working kitchen and a standalone school complex with a career technical education building. The living units have mental health clinicians in each unit.
“Going into the future, the new Youth Transition Campus will emphasize restorative justice, or repairing the harm young people may have caused to their family or in the community,” said Cesar Escuro, the county’s interim chief probation officer. “Struggling youth will be provided with trauma-informed rehabilitative and supportive services to complete their high school education, learn life skills, promote pro-social behaviors and prepare them for a successful reentry to the community.”
Since 2017, the county probation department worked with justice partners and community leaders — including the Children’s Initiative — which played a key role in helping county staff reimagine the future of juvenile detention with a data- and research-driven focus.
“This work is part of the county’s larger efforts to ensure at-risk youth are provide evidence-based services and programs, including individual and group counseling, promoting family engagement and providing lived experience mentors,” said Sandra McBrayer, CEO of The Children’s Initiative.
“The Youth Transition Center and the accompanying programs will provide youth the skills and tools they need to thrive. It will be a model for the country to implement positive youth development in a therapeutic detention setting,” McBrayer said.
According to county plans, the Youth Transition Campus project is the first part of two phases in redeveloping the overall juvenile justice campus.
The next phase of construction is set to begin in the spring and will include a 72-bed temporary residential placement facility — previously known as Juvenile Hall — and a small office building to support probation staff and families.
City News Service contributed to this article.