James Boys Ranch Undergoing $27 Million Expansion

A 50-year-old troubled-youth ranch is getting a $27 million upgrade, about half funded by a state grant and the rest by Santa Clara County.

The William F. James Boys Ranch in Morgan Hill will jump in size from 84 to 108 beds and include a new gym, kitchen and 30,000-square-foot housing facility. The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will consider a list of recommendations related to the project, which is due for completion in 2017.

But since starting construction, the cost has run up higher than original estimates. To move forward, the county needs an additional $4.1 million more, partly because of pricier-than-expected consulting, labor and materials costs.

Physical changes to the detention facility for youth aged 15½ to 18 come eight years after a fundamental shift in focus, too. For decades, the ranch held a heavy-handed correctional approach that emphasized behavioral regulation, resulting in more violence, lawsuits, alleged civil rights violations, recidivism and redirecting youth to state-run correctional facilities.

In 2004, after voters passed a measure that switched purview of juvenile justice from the courts to the county, supervisors put Chief Probation Officer Sheila E. Mitchell in charge. The new director’s philosophy favored a therapeutic approach, expanding capacity for high-needs teens, offering more mental health help and coming up with individualized post-release plans. It provided tattoo removal, substance abuse treatment, high school classes and intensive therapy to teach anti-criminal thinking, victim awareness and anger management.

Even before this in-progress state-funded remodeling, she turned the prison-style warren into a more home-like setting.

“When Mitchell arrived here … the probation department was in complete disarray,” Andre Chapman, CEO of youth nonprofit Unity Care wrote for the Mercury News upon her departure. “It operated using a top-down, good-ol’-boy philosophy that resulted in a culture of punitive practices, operating more like an adult prison with emphasis on punishment versus rehabilitation and treatment.”

Mitchell’s reforms worked. Within a year of enacting them in 2006, reported violations fell 63 percent and new arrests by half. The ranch, which once channeled more than 100 youth a year to Juvenile Hall, sent just one in 2013.

Mitchell retired last fall. Her deputy chief Karen Fletcher stepped up as acting chief until the county appoints a replacement.

More from the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors agenda for April 29, 2014:

  • Could be that in the near future, local restaurants will have to post their health grades in the window for consumers to see. If supervisors OK the plan, the color-coded placards would indicate whether the place passed inspections (green), passed with some conditions (yellow) or failed outright (red).
  • KTVU Channel 2 will get $300,000 from the county for a program to promote the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center and meet an Affordable Care Act objective of creating a healthier community.
  • The county’s eyeing a $400,000 grant that would pay for housing and substance abuse treatment for some chronically homeless people.
  • Some public trails and an equestrian campground are in need of some names, so a subcommittee met last month and came up with some suggestions.

WHAT: Board of Supervisors meet
WHEN: 9am Tuesday
WHERE: County Government Center, 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose
INFO: Clerk of the Board, 408.299.5001

Jennifer Wadsworth is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

One Comment

  1. “It operated using a top-down, good-ol’-boy philosophy that resulted in a culture of punitive practices…..”
    Translation: Back then the system held the juvenile accountable for their actions. Now they “talk” to the youth and if that doesn’t work after the 10th time MAYBE they will send them to the “ranch” (AKA Disneyland).

    “Mitchell’s reforms worked. Within a year of enacting them in 2006, reported violations fell 63 percent and new arrests by half.”
    Translation: Santa Clara County Probation adopted a new therapeutic model, which included their Ranch Re-Entry Assistance Program (RRAP). Reported violations fell because police aren’t allowed to arrest juveniles anymore (for the most part). For those juveniles that are cited, the crime is dismissed for this “new therapeutic” approach. Its not that the crime by juveniles has been reduced…the shell game has gotten more intense.
    I’m told that if a Juvenile on probation is in violation of his probation (i.e. not going to school, committing new offense, not complying with the conditions of his probation, in possession of a weapon) the Juvenile Probation can’t violated the Juvenile. Not even the PO’s supervisor can. The PO has to get management approval and they won’t approve of the probation violation because it is not in line with the “new therapeutic” approach.

    “The ranch, which once channeled more than 100 youth a year to Juvenile Hall, sent just one in 2013”
    Translation: I can’t even translate this one. Channeled???? In what year were they “channeling” 100 youth? What I think this means is that one juvenile failed the ranch program in 2013. I can only surmise that that youth failed the program because he didn’t get his turn on the play station one to many times. He got really really mad and refused to listen to anymore “new therapeutic” crap.