At the end of the 2016 Annual Juvenile Hall Open tour, County Probation guides told visiting youth and their parents, “Thank you for coming and I hope I never see you back here again,” according to the County News Center.
Over 2,860 people including families and community groups toured the Kearny Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility to catch a rare glimpse of what life is like for those inside, said the County News Center. The groups had an up close view of the inmates’ classrooms, bedrooms and bathrooms, along with a community garden run by girl offenders.
“The Open House is a great opportunity for us to showcase to the community what we have to offer as far as our resources and services to keep kids out of Juvenile Hall because many of these kids can be better served out in the community by alternatives to detention,” said Probation Chief Adolfo Gonzales.
“At one time we had 800 kids in here,” said Gonzales. “Now we have under 400–390 was the count last night but my goal is to get that under 350 or even lower if possible.”
Visitors looked into the inmate’s sleeping rooms, according to the County News Center. They were sparse and tidy with padded concrete beds with a blanket and desk. There were no personal belongings on display, to protect the incarcerated youths’ privacy.
“Imagine what it would be like to stay in there,” Supervising Probation Officer Fernando Uribe told his tour group. “You will have to ask to go to the bathroom, you will have to ask to get a drink of water. Your freedoms will be severely limited.”
After exploring the facilities on the free tour, both parents and youth agreed it was an eye-opening experience, said the County News Center. That included Karla Little, a 13-year-old girl from Carmel Valley who attended the event for community service credit.
“I thought it was really good. I learned a lot, like not to make bad choices,” Little said. “I get that problem with claustrophobia so I couldn’t be in a room that long and I get bored easily.”
Little was concerned about the lack of privacy for the inmates in the showers and bathrooms, reported the County News Center. Although the guides explained to her that the Juvenile Hall could help “make you better” she wasn’t interested in ever coming back.
The entire tour lasted for about 35 minutes as the County Probation guides alternated between English and Spanish. At the Juvenile Court, the staff explained the usual procedures for detained youth, according to the County News Center. The tour groups were then guided through an interior hallway between the court and the Juvenile Hall facility. That’s where youth between age 10 and 19 are held. Their crimes may range from theft and vandalism to violent offenses.
After the tour, there were many community booths organized in the parking lot, said the County News Center. The booths shared information on Probation programs such as Truancy Intervention, Breaking Cycles and the Short Term Offender Program (STOP.) Community groups also offered to help families struggling with troubled youth through services such as foster care, Second Chance and StarPal.
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