NASELLE - While a cost-saving proposal to let juvenile courts send offenders directly to Naselle Youth Camp for treatment awaits legislative action, the debate about reducing detention costs has spread to Naselle's closest neighbor in the state Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration system, Green Hill School in Chehalis.
A supervisor in one of Green Hill's living units, Gabe Hall, thinks the idea of turning Green Hill into a women's work-release facility should be set aside in favor of using the Chehalis facility for the state's Youthful Offender Program. Participants in the YOP are younger than 18 and have been tried, convicted and sentenced as adults.
"It's a better use of the facilities and would be a good fit for us. These are the same type of kids we already serve," said Hall. "Youthful offenders are supposed to be separated at all times by sight and sound from adult offenders. By taking the youths, Green Hill can free beds at the Department of Corrections for adult offenders."
Jack Smith, counselor-assistant at the Naselle Youth Camp, said expanding the YOP at Green Hill would be in line with Gov. Chris Gregoire's call to reform state government in response to an enormous budget shortfall.
He spoke of recent research, which suggests a realignment of the four JRA institutions could serve 200 to 250 more youth, making operations across the system more cost-effective and reducing demand on DOC.
"The governor said it's time for 'bold improvements.' I view that as an opportunity to rethink the approach to juvenile rehabilitation, and the bills our 19th District legislators recently brought forth are an excellent start," Smith said.
Senate Bill 6039, prime-sponsored by Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond, and House Bill 2234, filed by Rep. Dean Takko, D-Longview, and Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, would create a "sentence for treatment" alternative which could be selected by juvenile courts.
SB 6039 and HB 2234 would allow youth to be sentenced directly to Naselle Youth Camp and let the court establish educational and treatment goals which, when completed, would allow them to transition back to the community under close supervision. Smith is watching the legislative committee schedule to see if and when either bill comes up for a committee hearing.
Besides opening the door to a more stable stream of funding for the NYC, the sentence-for-treatment proposal recognizes the strengths of Naselle's programs for youth and NYC's excellent reputation for educational success. Smith sees it as part of a larger effort to meet the treatment and educational needs of youth offenders sooner and more efficiently, in hopes of keeping them from entering the DOC system later at greater cost to themselves and taxpayers.
"Naselle has a great program which is unique in JRA and couldn't be replicated at any of the other juvenile institutions. It takes more than a directive from headquarters to create a successful program like Naselle's; it takes people. I'm sure the same is true for Green Hill," Smith explained.
Hall said zoning laws may prevent converting Green Hill for use by adult women and community support for the move is lacking. He also points to the estimated $1 million-plus it would cost to add the necessary security and remodel living units to suit women offenders, plus the expense to close Green Hill, relocate its employees to other JRA facilities, then hire and train new employees for DOC.
"It would just seem to make sense, especially in a time of tight budgets, to keep what is working rather than disrupt people's lives and spend more money creating something that our community doesn't want. If DOC needs more beds they can save money by sending us their youthful offenders," he added.