Juvenile hall, commonly known as “juvie,” are words that can strike fear into the hearts misbehaving children and their weary parents. While law enforcement officials have several options to chose from when dealing with adult offenders, juveniles are in a category all to themselves.
“At any given time, there are only about 200 juveniles in custody in our juvenile halls throughout the county,” said Riverside County Probation Department Chief Deputy Probation Officer Ron Miller, during a recent interview at the Southwest facility. “Considering the size of this county, that’s pretty good. We’re very proud of our juvenile facilities and especially of the staff that we have who are dedicated to helping these young people.“
In Southwest Riverside County, Murrieta’s Southwest Juvenile Hall is managed by the unit’s division director Jason Bailey and is one of four detention facilities in Riverside County that house offenders under the age of 18.
Clean and modern, the facility is designed and built to maintain maximum safety and comfort of both the staff and the juveniles who stay there.
“There are a lot of very different types of young people who come through here,” Miller explained. “But if there’s one thing all of them have in common, it’s the fact that they are here until the courts and other authorities can determine what the best option is to deal with the specific situation that each one of those here are facing on the outside.”
Miller stressed that juveniles held at the facilities are dealing with everything from simple family problems that result in drug and alcohol abuse to serious crimes.
“Every young person here has committed some kind of crime in order to end up here,” he explained. “That’s why from the first minute a young person is brought to us by law enforcement, we try to determine exactly what all the issues are that are involved in order to determine an appropriate course of correction.”
Upon arrival at the hall, placement officials determine both the legal and medical situations of each juvenile admitted.
Those with legal issues only are started through the process at the hall, while those who might also have medical problems, physical as well as mental, are evaluated and either treated by a nurse at the hall or transferred to a nearby hospital where they can be seen by a physician.
While officials and the courts determine the most suitable options in dealing with specific situations, youth are housed in dormitory-like sections that are more like barracks than jails.
Individually segregated cells are kept for specific uses — the most notorious usually consisting of those prone to loud snoring.
“Other than that, we have found that the best way to deal with all of our youth is in a group setting,” Bailey said. “Once you segregate one or two from the group as a whole it becomes a lot more work to serve everyone equally.”
In a centrally-located area is a classroom, which is managed by one teacher who gives residents coursework applicable to their age group.
Each resident spends approximately three to four hours in school sessions each day, which is separated by frequent recreation time in one of several outdoor yards that feature basketball courts and other facilities.
To the casual observer, youth at the facility would be difficult to differentiate from the members of any other youth group, especially since the activities that take up the day are often those those youth would enjoy outside, such as basketball.
Three nutritious meals are served each day, along with an evening cracker barrel snack. Menus are changed frequently depending on the weather — cold meals are served most often in the summer months, while hot meals are served in cooler times of the year.
“I think that running a juvenile facility is a special calling,” Bailey explained. “It’s a job that a lot of people in law enforcement wouldn’t consider a front line job, but the feeling I get when a young person comes up to me after working with him years ago and he expresses his thanks for what we did for him and how he has turned out is one that cannot be replaced.”
Michael W. Michelsen, Jr. is a local writer and new contributor to SWRNN.