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Santa Clara County continues to demonstrate innovative and effective juvenile justice practices that allow it to serve even its most serious juvenile offenders at the county level, begging the question: why aren’t other counties doing the same? 

In 2006, Santa Clara County recognized that James Ranch was a failure. It had extraordinarily high recidivism rates, due to a congregate care model that provided violence and custodial management instead of rehabilitation. The County sent serious juvenile offenders to the State youth correctional facilities (DJJ) at a high rate because it was unable to serve them at the county level. 

In response to the Ranch failure, Santa Clara County Probation Department and Board of Supervisors united in their commitment to enhance the facility, transforming it using the Missouri Model framework. At the same time DJJ was completing remedial plans for its facilities, which promised a rehabilitative model of care that would be comparable to the well-respected Washington state model. 

Today, Santa Clara County’s James Ranch stands as an innovate demonstration of what counties can achieve with perseverance and political will. Over the course of three visits to the James Ranch, CJCJ staff have witnessed the changes and progress Santa Clara County is making. During this visit, what struck me most was its cohesive strength of purpose. All staff at the Ranch have completed intensive training on the Missouri model of care, including administrative, management, medical, and teaching staff. This accord of programmatic concepts and approach allows all staff to participate in the youth’s treatment and immerses the youth in a truly encompassing therapeutic environment. Santa Clara County is now one of the most self-reliant counties in the State, and provides services to its youth in the Ranch at an estimated cost of $131,871, per ward per year. 

Meanwhile, DJJ reform efforts continue to flounder; mired in bureaucratic malaise, a decrepit and unsafe facility design, and sporadic application of rehabilitative programming, all at the extraordinary cost of approximately $225,000 per ward per year. The Governor’s proposal to close these facilities and transfer responsibility for all juvenile offenders to the county level has been fiercely opposed due to concerns that counties may be unable to provide necessary rehabilitative services to this high-needs population. However, DJJ has a recorded historic failure to provide the necessary care, and Santa Clara County has demonstrated that, with long-term resources and commitment, counties can address the needs of serious juvenile offenders. 

CJCJ staff toured James Ranch on March 22, 2011 and would like to thank Nick Birchard and all Ranch staff for the opportunity.