Log Cabin Ranch, a 640-acre property in the woods, is home to 24 of San Francisco’s most troubled youths, says the San Francisco Chronicle. There are no fences, no locks and, no handcuffs, although it is a criminal lockup. In some ways, the ranch seems like summer camp. The young men who call it home go to school together, work, garden, and eat together – and undergo intensive group counseling together. Some are allowed to go home on weekends; this year, four young men actually chose to stay on longer than the courts mandated in order to finish their high school diplomas. The ranch is what many advocates for youth hope the future of juvenile corrections will look like in California.
While none of the youths here has committed murder, they all have a “significant delinquent history,” says Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Bill Sifferman, and some have convictions for such violent crimes as assault or robbery. As the state incarcerates fewer and fewer juveniles, after a decade of criticism, legal battles and skyrocketing costs, many counties are looking for alternatives to traditional juvenile halls. “These aren’t highfalutin (programs) with a lot of psychobabble,” said Sue Burrell of the Youth Law Center in San Francisco, which assisted in a 2000 suit over the conditions in state-run facilities. “They really just help the kids to see the community and their families in context and really take a look at what’s been happening in their lives, and realize they have choices.” These days, only about 1,000 of the most violent California offenders are detained in state facilities, down from a high of 10,000 a decade ago.