NASELLE - On Tuesday, May 20, Gov. Locke signed off on Senate Bill 5903, which was created to reduce the amount of money the state spends on juvenile rehabilitation, and one which has created a vast amount of concern for the administration and staff of the Naselle Youth Camp (NYC), one of the state's four Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration (JRA) facilities.
At the same time that Locke signed off on SB5903, he vetoed an amendment attached to the bill which would have prevented closure of any of the state's JRA facilities without prior legislative approval.
Vetoing this amendment essentially removes any guarantees for the state's four JRA facilities, which includes the Green Hill Training School in Chehalis, Echo Glen Children's Center in Snoqualmie, Maple Lane School in Centralia, and NYC in Naselle. The amendment was sponsored by Rep. Alexander, from south Thurston County, whose jurisdiction includes Chehalis.
SB5903 was first introduced on Feb. 19 and was sponsored Sens. Val Stevens, Don Carlson and Jim Hargrove.
According to NYC Superintendent Tom Quinn, during a Friday interview, the passage of SB5903 minus the amendment is not a serious setback for NYC, which is the largest employer in Naselle. The camp currently employs 135 people and infuses an estimated $6 million into local and surrounding area economies each year.
"At this point in time, and I am well aware there is a feeling out there that this puts Naselle Youth Camp at least potentially back on the chopping block," said Quinn. "But I don't see this as a significant change from where we are, and I don't see this having a significant impact."
Quinn went on to say that he is cognizant of the bill's impact and weight, particularly in light of the state's swelling deficit, which now stands at $2.6 billion, but added that he is hopeful that the JRA budget will remain intact.
"When the Senate passed its budget it called for a $14 million cut to JRA," said Quinn. "Does that large a cut to JRA pose a threat to NYC? Absolutlely. I do have to say that I have not seen any plan that JRA has developed to date that calls for the closure of any JRA institution. Everything, of course, right now hinges on what the state budget, in fact, looks like."
Quinn went on to say the expectation is that JRA is not going to end up with a $14 million cut. He said that the hope is it will be quite a bit less than that, which should lesson the tension of closure for NYC administration and staff.
"At the moment it is wait and see," Quinn said. "I feel confident we will make it through this and be here July 1."
Hargrove, the ranking member of the Children and Family Services and Corrections Committee, said in early March that 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. He said the bill also seeks to possibly close one of the four existing JRA facilities. One thing he made clear was that NYC is not one of the JRA facilities being targeted for closure in connection with SB5903.
"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.
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."
According to Hargrove, the impetus for SB5903 is due mainly to the fact that 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. 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."
Quinn said closing NYC would not just be devastating for Naselle, but for western Pacific County and also Wahkiakum County.
"We are the second largest employer in the county, next 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 SB5903, 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."