The SPC Chinese delegation visited three out-of-home residential placement facilities—Oak Hill Youth Center and the Victor Cullen Center, both in Maryland, and Log Cabin Ranch School, located outside of San Francisco. The tours provided a glimpse at progressive alternatives to incarceration that aim to help young offenders develop into law-abiding citizens.
Intended for juveniles who have committed serious crimes, the facilities share many common characteristics. They are spread out in expansive, lush rural environments—away from the urban temptations and familiar comforts of the juveniles’ neighborhoods—and house a small population of juveniles. The residential programs, which last between nine months and a year, are highly personalized, with standard high school courses that present perhaps the best chance for many to get an education. They also offer vocational training, counseling, and recreational activities. Juveniles must achieve a set of goals related to personal growth and development before graduating from a program and re-entering society. The programs promote “dialogue” among the juveniles, some of whom may have been members of rival gangs, as a way to communicate and rehabilitate in an atmosphere of mutual understanding and respect.
Even with a huge number of referrals and limited capacities, none of the facilities visited were full. Placements are based on judicial orders and agreement of the wards’ legal counsel, and some offenders request not to be placed in such facilities since they are so remote. Log Cabin Ranch School, which had over 70 residents in 1977, when it was more similar to a boot camp, was serving only nine juveniles at the time of the delegation’s tour. The Victor Cullen Center, with 32 juveniles, was three-fourths full, but is just one of 14 facilities run by the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services that serve a total of over 900 youth.
The Chinese delegates believed that the residential facilities, though impressive in handling issues of juvenile delinquency and rehabilitation, are not models likely to be replicated in China. Mainly, they were skeptical that the government would invest so many resources to build facilities on huge expanses of rural land to treat a small number of young offenders. (Log Cabin Ranch School sits on 640 acres, but the facilities take up only 11 acres for its nine wards.) Concerns about resource allocation notwithstanding, the delegates noted a principle spreading in China that is seen in these US alternatives: an emphasis must be placed on educating and rehabilitating juvenile delinquents in safe, supportive environments instead of merely punishing them