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Youth Transition Campus offers new treatment, hope for young offenders

There’s a new home and even more hope for the teenagers who find themselves locked up in San Diego County’s juvenile detention system.

The Youth Transition Campus (YTC) at Kearny Mesa aims to provide young offenders with the opportunity to transform their lives through treatment, education, support and job training in a state-of-the-art facility.

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The county’s probation department opened its new youth transition campus in February. YTC offers longer stays in custody for youth ages 13-20 who receive treatment, education and skills prior to release, San Diego, Calif., July 6, 2022.

This summer, some young people in detention are learning more than the hard lessons of life.

“I was first locked up when I was 14 and was there on my 15th birthday,” said Oceanaura Fallow, who is now 18. His past included time spent in the county’s former juvenile hall.

“I was hanging out with people who were here or who were over there doing bad things,” she said. .”

Ocean, as she prefers to be called, didn’t “get a haircut.” She found herself in the middle of gang fights and a life of illegal drugs. But a few stints in county custody changed his life.

During her sentence, she took classes to meet high school requirements and learned photography and art.

His latest photographs and his painting hang in the lobby of the YTC. The painting shows the mythical Persian bird Huma in brilliant pastel colors.

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Courtesy of Ocean Fallow

Ocean Fallow, 18, is shown in this undated photo. Fallow recently graduated from San Diego County’s Supportive Advocacy for Female Education (SAFE) program. She will start at Grossmont College in August with plans to study criminal justice in San Diego, California.

“It never touches the ground, it just flies high in the sky and it brings hope and gifts to desperate people,” she said. “It’s supposed to uplift you and move you forward. So I thought it was perfect for that type of environment.

Just a few weeks ago, she graduated from the Department of Probation’s Supportive Advocacy for Female Education (SAFE) program. This is an independent online study program that will allow her to start her classes at Grossmont College in August.

The YTC replaced facilities that looked more like a prison and have now been demolished. Another temporary residential building is currently under construction. The open-court facility breathes new life into the juvenile corrections system.

“I saw kids being released and two weeks later they were arrested again and back in my classroom,” said Alex Long, who taught in San Diego juvenile court schools for 25 years. .

For most of this time, Long taught science and math. But five years ago, the county spent significantly more money on vocational and technical education. It was then that he began teaching the carpentry workshop to six students for two hours each weekday, building furniture, frames and anything they could dream of building out of wood. .

“Now when they’re released from here and they’ve gone through my class, they can get an entry-level job and then they can, I believe, affect their lives for good as they move on and that they have options,” Long said.

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Alex Long is a carpentry shop instructor at the new Youth Transition Campus. It shows some of the furniture created by students detained at Kearny Mesa Institution, San Diego, California, July 6, 2022.

Ellen De La Cruz helps struggling teens through reading at the new YTC. She has been teaching at County Court Schools since 1997 and is committed to breaking stereotypes along the way.

“We pay attention,” De La Cruz said, “Nobody paid attention to their grades and their accomplishments.”

De La Cruz said a third of the 13- to 20-year-olds she teaches read below a fifth grade level. That is why the new campus has an expanded library. There’s even a summer reading contest going on right now.

Students inside also study for associate degrees through a partnership with Cuyamaca College.

“For me, it was difficult to find a job because I was on probation for a while…but don’t let that stop you. You just keep going,” De La Crus said. “Get out of the system, get out of probation… you can do it!

Ocean Fallow has grown from a student on the inside to a mentor on the outside, reflecting on her painting hanging in the lobby of the YTC.

“It’s super cool and makes me really happy,” she said.

The happiness she hopes to one day turn into a career as a judge in the juvenile justice system.

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