With maps covering the walls, movable whiteboards, new computers and clean desks, this classroom seems like it belongs in a new suburban middle school – except for the razor wire outside.
The classroom was one stop on a tour of the Yolo County Juvenile Detention Facility. The detention facility’s first open house gave Yolo County residents an up-close look at the new facility, which opened in 2005.
Between 350 and 400 people of all ages, from toddlers to grandparents, followed experienced detention officers through the halls.
Don Meyer, Yolo County’s chief probation officer, said he got the idea from different counties that had run similar events.
“It’s really helpful to see how tax dollars are being spent,” Meyer said.
The facility houses 90 beds split into three pods with 30 beds each. The inmates in C-pod were moved elsewhere as large groups of students, teachers, children, parents and other curious taxpayers were guided through.
Facility manager Ray Simmons said he hoped people would see the important work his team is doing in the facility – teaching the kids this is a just a bump in the road and working to help them be successful when they get out.
“We wanted people to know how much the kids are being educated here,” Simmons said. “That it’s not a warehouse where we lock kids up and throw away the key.“
In the lobby, booths were set up to show what sort of volunteer organizations help out at the detention facility. Church representatives, school groups, health officials and Girl Scouts groups answered questions and shared information with interested people as they waited for a tour or ate their complimentary cookies.
Many parents brought their children to the open house to show them what the jail looks and feels like in hopes that they’ll never have to see the inside again.
Maxine Pepper, whose daughter works in the facility, brought her grandkids to the open house.
“It’s a wonderful deterrent,” Pepper said. “So they see what freedom really is.“
Members of local police departments, Yolo County Child Protective Services, and other county employees also came to get a more complete picture of their own jobs.
“I work with a lot of at-risk youth and people who have been in and out of places like this,” said Josh Gottschalk who works for CPS. “It’s good to get a sense of what it is.“
Sarah Miller, who examines eligibility for Yolo’s food stamps program, also came to gather information related to her job.
“It’s way more of a jail than I expected,” Miller said. “I would like more information about the programs offered, but it’s good general information for the public.“
The tours lasted 20 to 40 minutes as they rounded through the rec yard, the medical center, the pod and the booking area. In the pod, visitors could see the rooms, showers, classrooms, medical facilities and the common area.
Meyer said Yolo County implements a variety of evidence-based programs to lower recidivism rates in the area. By implementing well-researched programs with trained staff, they hope to create a safer county and help the people who come through their doors become productive members of society. He said he wanted people to see the good side of “juvie.“
Still, no one was pretending that it is a resort.
“I mean, if we opened the doors, the kids would probably leave,” Meyer said.
Currently 76 minors are being held in Yolo County for an average length of 19 days. About 29 are from Yolo County, while the others come from all over as part of the facility’s federal contract. For more information about the facility, visit yolocounty.org/Index.aspx?page=1323.
ELYSSA THOME can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.