NASELLE - A senate bill seeking to reduce the amount of money the state spends on juvenile rehabilitation has administrators and staff at Naselle Youth Camp (NYC) looking over their shoulders, particularly since the bill was introduced at the same time the state is wrangling with an estimated $2.5 billion budget shortfall.
Senate Bill 5903 was first introduced on Feb. 19 and is sponsored by 24th District Democratic Sen. Jim Hargrove and two other senators. Hargrove's office is in Hoquiam.
Hargrove, ranking member of the Children and Family Services and Corrections Committee, said the purpose of the bill is twofold. It seeks to reduce the number of juvenile offenders going into the state's Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration's (JRA) facilities by having them serve their sentences in local detention facilities.
The bill also seeks to possibly close an existing JRA facility, such as Green Hill Training School in Chehalis, Echo Glen Children's Center in Snoqualmie or Maple Lane School in Centralia.
One thing he made clear in an interview Tuesday afternoon was that NYC is not one of the JRA facilities being targeted for closure in connection with SB 5903.
"The Naselle Youth Camp, as far as I'm concerned anyway, is our only work camp and would be a component of our juvenile rehabilitation program that we should not get rid of," said Hargrove. "I can't promise it won't operate in a reduced capacity."
On the state level, Hargrove said there is no desire to close down NYC, and said, "There hasn't even been a suggestion of that. There has been some discussion about the other facilities."
NYC Superintendent Tom Quinn said he takes comfort in Hargrove's contention that NYC is safe from the chopping block, but added he felt obliged to inform the staff and administration of all possibilities. On Monday Quinn held a meeting at the camp among its supervisory management staff and the union leadership to discuss the situation.
On Tuesday, Quinn met in Naselle with representatives from the Naselle/Grays River Chamber of Commerce and Pacific County and Wahkiakum County economic development councils. County Commissioner Jon Kaino was also present at the meeting.
Quinn said closing NYC would not just be devastating for Naselle, but for western Pacific County and also Wahkiakum County. The camp employs 135 employees and is one of the largest employers in Pacific County. Each year the camp feeds $6 million into local and county economies in wages to its employees. In addition, these wages in turn result in purchasing $1 million in goods and services each year.
"We are the second largest employer in the county, nest to the county itself," said Quinn. "I think given that, losing that kind of employment base and salary base - the numbers speak for themselves."
Quinn said he doesn't oppose the premise of SR 5903, but questions whether youth would be given the same opportunities in local detention centers as they receive when they come to NYC.
"I think ours is a very, very unique juvenile offender program," said Quinn. "We do have a unique combination of academic and vocational education, vocational work programs, drug and alcohol treatment, sex offender treatment and mental health treatment - all rolled into one package. The DNR program at the camp also does a great deal for the youth and the community."
According to Hargrove, the impetus for SR 5903 is mainly to the fact there are an estimated 220 empty beds at the JRA facilities. He said that the number of empty beds is a direct result of state programs that have worked to reduce juvenile crime. He said he would like to see the empty bed space eliminated. One way he said this could be accomplished would be to turn one of JRA's facilities into an adult minimum security facility. At this time he said that Green Hill Training School in Chehalis would be the most likely candidate for this.
"I think it would be fair to say Naselle is not even on the list [for conversion]," said Hargrove. "I know that our adult prison system does have a need for new capacity. It just so happens that Green Hill might be something that would work as a minimum facility in our adult system. I am not sure about all the details of that just yet."
Hargrove said he thought that for certain types of juvenile offenders, there are programs in their own communities that do a better job of reducing recidivism and helping them get back on the right track, rather than sending them to JRA facilities "at a far distant spot of the state."
But he said he was aware that not all counties or communities in the state have detention facilities set up for juveniles.
Hargrove said Pacific County has an agreement with Grays Harbor County, and that many of Pacific County's youths go to the detention facility there. He cited that Grays Harbor is a lot closer than Green Hill Training School in Chehalis or Maple Lane School in Centralia.
He said that, according to SR 5903, sending youth either to local detention centers or to one of the state's JRA facilities would be up to local judges.
"This is not a mandatory program," said Hargrove.
He said it would be up to local judges to weigh whether a particular community or county has the appropriate juvenile detention or rehabilitation services, such as for drugs, alcohol, sex offense or mental illness.
According to Hargrove, it is youth from Seattle and Tacoma who are the "lion's share" of the population which currently fill the JRA facilities.
It is when it comes to numbers that Quinn disagrees with Hargrove. According to Quinn, there aren't as many empty beds in JRA's facilities as Hargrove estimates.
"I respect what he has said and I am absolutely convinced he is a supporter of Naselle Youth Camp," said Quinn. "Where the concern comes from is that all of us in JRA have looked at the numbers."
Quinn added that it was comments coming from JRA's administration which have caused the high level of concern over closure of NYC. He said that JRA has estimated that the need for maximum security juvenile facilities such as Green Hill Training School remains steady, while the need for medium security facilities such as NYC is not in demand.
"What JRA is saying is that due to the need for maximum security beds, it would be untenable to close a maximum security juvenile facility like Green Hill," said Quinn. "What we've been hearing is that if they had to close any facility, then the logical choice would be a medium security facility like Naselle Youth Camp."
Quinn said he is confident NYC will not be closed, and at the same time said he will be glad when the end of the current legislative session ends and he knows for sure.
"I will be reassured when July 1 gets here and we are still open," said Quinn.
NYC, which houses on the average of 148 male and female juveniles each day, was founded in 1966.