By Deb Murphy

The closure of Inyo County’s Juvenile Hall, and all that entails, has been in the works for almost a year. After workshops, community outreach and regular progress reports, the Board of Supervisors approved a series of recommendations to transition the 16-bed facility from a 24/7 to a special purpose (weekend) facility and provide the support necessary to help juvenile offenders transition into healthy adults.

As Probation Chief Jeff Thomson has said, the hall will close because his department has been doing a good job. Currently there are two minors at the facility, over the course of these discussions, the highest occupancy at the hall has been five.

According to County Administrative Officer Kevin Carunchio, the county pays $1.6 million to operate the hall. The simple conclusion: those funds should be spent on more effective resources to help kids at risk and their families.

Traveling on a parallel path, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Child Protective Services has been working toward a family-based, early intervention model with the potential to lower juvenile crime stats even more.

According to H&HS Director Jean Turner, both state and federal funding are honing in on identifying risks and providing support within the communities and extended families.

Over the last eight months, Inyo’s Probation and H&HS departments have been wrestling with the devil in these details. Where will the juveniles who need detention go? What about the 72-hour hold requirement? With long-term group homes disappearing, who will step in? What about the county’s court school, Keith Bright? Can the county recruit foster families willing to take on the challenge of at-risk kids? What about the Resource Center?

Thomson and Turner provided most of the answers:

  • Juveniles requiring detention will be sent to Tulare, Kern, El Dorado or Nevada county facilities. With a state-wide trend toward fewer kids in detention, there are plenty of beds available. When questioned about the culture in out-of-county facilities, Thomson said his department’s preference would be El Dorado or Nevada facilities, both of which match the demographics of Inyo more closely than the larger facilities.

The missing link with out-of-county placement will be family reunification. Thomson agreed that would be “difficult to address.”

Once released, the offender would be put on probation and that’s where his department would be able to work with the kid and the family.

Inyo’s Juvey Hall will be open from Friday afternoon to Monday mornings, providing weekend detention and resources for those kids who require more supervision. During the week, those minors will live in their communities and attend school.

The law requires a 72-hour detention period between arrest and a court date. An effort will be made to place low-level offenders with a foster family or someone within his extended family. If that’s not possible, juveniles would be sent out-of-county until their court appearance.

Group homes are being phased out state-wide. While they were the first option for placement, they were also the least effective. Instead, juveniles and/or children will be placed with foster families or within their own communities with an extended family member.

H&HS has developed support and training for what are now called “resource families.” “There’s been a mind-set shift,” Turner explained. “We listen to the family; they participate in the program, have a voice in the solution. Whatever it takes. We ask the families, ‘what do you need to make this work?’” According to Thomson, there is the “ability out there (with group home models) to provide additional treatment.”

The community outreach and public comments at board meetings revealed strong support for the work done at the Keith Bright School. Arrangements have been made with the Inyo Office of Education and Bishop Unified School District to simply move the court school to Jill Kinmont Boothe School in Bishop for those students who would most benefit from the one-on-one educational program.

A section of JKBS has been equipped to keep the two student populations separate and safe. Probation staff will be available. The only remaining questions were the role “clean and sober” played in the success of the Keith Bright School and the fact students were a captive audience.

The Keith Bright students will be court ordered to attend school and drug tested, if those terms are spelled out by the court. Thomson conceded it won’t be the same, but off-site court schools have been successful in other counties.

The issue of foster family recruitment is being addressed by H&HS with some funding for recruitment and extensive training for these resource families. “We have to be smarter,” said Turner. “There will be a lot of foster training, more resources, more behavioral help with these families. We’ll be looking to relatives (of the kids).”

Board Chair Jeff Griffiths provided foster care for 10 years and spoke emotionally about the kids in his care, some of whom were low-level offenders. He noted that while some were difficult, “all of them were amazing people.”

Inyo’s Resource Center had been the focus of the transition, providing a broad range of services, from addiction counseling to vocational training, for both juveniles and adults.

Plans have been modified, focusing not on one central location but on existing facilities in both north and south Inyo beginning with resources for kids within the purview of both the Probation Department and H&HS

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