Fresno County is facing a massive budget deficit, somewhere between $15 and $30-million dollars. Shutting down the popular boot camp could help the budget, but county and community leaders believe it could hurt the community.
The focus of the Elkhorn facility is to help young people in trouble get their lives straightened out. Probation Director Linda Penner, who oversees the county's juvenile justice programs, said 70% percent of those who complete the Elkhorn program stay out of future problems with the law. "When you're talking about prison systems being impacted and jails being overcrowded you need to reach people as soon as possible, and effect change. And that's what we do there."
Penner said she had no choice but to comply with the county supervisors orders to cut, and cut big. "The only reason it's Elkhorn is because the cut was so deep, that we could not exact that anywhere else in the department."
Elkhorn costs Fresno county nearly $7-million dollars a year, and with a deficit this year projected at up to $30 million, it's a big target.
"Six point nine million to run it, and lord knows we need that six point nine million," said County Supervisor Phil Larson. Supervisor Phil Larson believes Elkhorn is a great success but fears the county may have no choice. Supervisor Bob Waterston agrees: "The only thing we're going to make up of that is taking major programs out now, that's all that's left. We have to balance a budget by our rules of the state of California it has to be done."
Community activist Susan Bechara, who ran the House of Hope, has been helping to reform gang members and get kids on the right track for years. She said shutting down the Elkhorn camp would be a mistake, "They are either going to be back out on the street or they are going to be sitting in the big JJC and doing nothing. The program is very different over there."
"It's not just a big loss to the probation department, it's a massive loss to the community," said Linda Penner.
Penner said only about a third of those housed at Elkhorn could be move the JJC, or juvenile justice center. Other programs, or electronic monitoring could be used on others, but she doesn't believe it will be as effective.
Elkhorn opened about ten years ago. It places offenders aged 13 to 18 in a one year program.