Hundreds of juvenile offenders currently held in detention centers – including many of whom have been charged with crimes as severe as rape and assault  – could be released back into Sacramento County with no supervision.

A directive from Sacramento County is forcing county probation officials to propose the closure of the Sacramento Boys Ranch and the Warren E. Thornton Youth Center.

The probation department is being asked by the office of County Executive Terry Schutten to make cuts of more than $37 million. Clearing operations costs and laying off 198 staff members and approximately 50 managers would help close the gap.

“It’s absolutely not acceptable,” said William Harper, President of the Sacramento County Probation Association. “They are asking the probation department to cut enough out of its budget to really hurt public safety.”

The move that would put serious criminals back into local communities would take effect following the July 1 budget.

“The people we deal with have already been convicted of a crime,” Harper said. “A lot of these people are pretty nasty characters. These kids who have been convicted of crimes like car jacking and rape; they’re going to be returned to a community without any leash at all.”

He added, “It’s going to raise the risk of a lot more crime. At the Boys Ranch, they are just going to release them. Some of the real hardcore ones may be picked on already overloaded juvenile officers’ caseloads.”

According to Probation Department figures published in The Sacramento Bee, in fiscal year 2007-08, the ranch rehabilitated 413 youths at a 73 percent rate (with 23 percent returning to a youth detention center and 2 percent landing in adult prison).

“The probation youth programs have been very successful,” Harper said. “If you start cutting these programs, then who is going to be working with these kids?”

Harper, who is retiring from his position this week, questioned how County Supervisors couldn’t have seen the writing on the wall and began planning earlier for a tough economy.

“Terry Schutten and [his office] had no transparency whatsoever on the budget problem,” Harper said. “They told us at the end of January that ‘oh my God the sky is falling.’ I raised my hand and said ‘you didn’t see this coming before?’”

An interview request on Tuesday to Terry Schutten’s office by was not returned.
Harper said that the probation officers understand that the economy – globally, nationally, statewide and locally – is in extraordinary times and they are willing to be part of the solution.

But he is frustrated with the way Schutten’s office has managed this crisis.

“The county needs to step up and stop lying to everyone,” Harper said. “Every time Schutten comes out with new figures, they’re different.”

Harper said that Sacramento County probation officers want to be part of the solution and met with county supervisors to defer staff increases and raises.

“We sat down four times with the head of labor negotiations and they kept saying we couldn’t defer, that we had to give it up completely,” Harper said. “I can’t sell that to those guys. So we walked out and said give us a call when you want to get serious.

“It’s not like we’re sitting around waiting for our piece of the pie and to hell with everyone else.”

Budget hearings for the county on May 13 will bring many of these issues to the surface.

“There are a lot of us just shaking our heads that they are going to do what they are going to do,” Harper said.

James Spencer can be reached at