In eastern Sacramento County’s rolling foothills, high, barbed-wire fences hold 160 acres of the former Carson Creek Ranch. Walk inside and you’ll see a green grass courtyard surrounded by one-story grey concrete buildings. In between classes, you’ll see orange jumpsuits mixed in. This is the Sacramento County Boys Ranch. Its residents have committed crimes like robbery, sexual battery or assault with a deadly weapon. Take 18-year-old Ira, from the Del Paso Heights neighborhood of Sacramento.
Ira: “My big brother, he started trading his life for drugs. My dad in the penitentiary. My mom, she couldn’t do it all by herself. So I tried to help her by not having her buy me stuff and trying to get it by myself.”
He tried – by robbing a house. But he was caught. Now he’s one of 125 residents at the Boys Ranch. Most are between 15 and 18 years old, nearly all of them felons. They take general education classes to earn their GEDs and high school diplomas – and special job-training programs too. Ira hopes to get a landscaping job when he gets out in July.
Ira: “It’s cool. I’m getting my education. More than I would on the outs. Cause it’s more opportunities here. Go to school, get a job. I think the teachers here are more helpful, and I think they really care for kids’ education here.”
Ira says he’s comfortable at the Ranch – the food’s better than Juvenile Hall, and he gets to lift weights and play basketball when he’s not in class.
But all this costs $10 million a year – money the county says it doesn’t have. The Ranch was on the chopping block last year, too, but got saved at the last minute. Now, its future looks grim.
Meyer: “If this place closes, it’s a huge setback for rehabilitation – and public safety.”
Don Meyer is the county’s chief probation officer. He says Sacramento would likely become the only major county in the state without its own commitment facility. He says closing the Boys Ranch would increase crime and hurt the community. And as for the teens?
Meyer: “Those kids are still gonna be in the system, but somewhere else. ... Some of them would have to go home. A number of them would have to go back to Juvenile Hall to be sentenced to a different facility – which is not local.”
Outside the county, for sure, and likely even out-of-state. But wherever they go, Sacramento County would still have to foot the bill.
Szalay: “Good morning. This is a sad day in the history of Sacramento County.”
The man with the miserable task of finding $180 million in the county’s budget is Steven Szalay. The interim county executive took over in January, and last week, Szalay announced the cuts he’s recommending to the Board of Supervisors today. They’re mostly tied to each department’s budget slice. Szalay says Probation has to absorb its fair share of the deficit.
Szalay: “None of these cuts are anything that I would want to be a part of, and it’s unfortunate we’ve reached this point. But in order to have the county be a strong and vibrant entity where current revenue pays for current services, we have to make these cuts this year.”
But Szalay doesn’t have the final say. That’s up to the five elected county supervisors. They could restore the $10 million to fund the Boys Ranch. But if they do, they’ll have to take it from somewhere else – and it seems like every department has a story like the Boys Ranch.