Following up on two successful juvenile justice delegations in 2008 and 2010, Dui Hua visited the San Mateo County Youth Services Center (YSC) in June 2011. The center is a model of restorative justice for juvenile offenders, but recent budget cuts have resulted in a reduction in support for young women’s programs in the county.

Opened in September 2006, YSC replaces what one judge told the San Francisco Chronicle were “medieval” facilities. Designed to emphasize freedom of movement and rehabilitation, YSC stands in contrast to bleakly punitive facilities, whose development was fueled by a rise in juvenile crime in the 1980s. Large windows in the spacious, well-lit buildings overlook an on-site football field. Service integration is paramount, with the center inclusive of courtrooms, a 180-bed juvenile hall, a health and dental clinic, a fully accredited school, probation offices, and an assessment center for diversion-program referral.

Juvenile Hall

The San Mateo County Youth Services Center. Credit: San Mateo County

In July 2011 the juvenile hall housed 138 boys and 30 girls, ages 11 through 17. Living quarters are divided by sex, age, and gravity of offense. Crimes ranged from drug activity and gang-related violence to attempted murder.

Administrators point to the modern facilities and wealth of rehabilitative programs as indicators of the residence hall’s success. Deputy Chief Probation Officer Roy Brasil said San Mateo’s juvenile hall focuses on reintegrating youth into the community and thus offers more transitional programs than surrounding counties. In its core Time and Terminate Program (TNT), staff accompany youth to job interviews, to the Department of Motor Vehicles, and to community-based organizations offering housing assistance. Another key initiative, Fresh Lifelines for Youth (FLY), is run by Stanford law students to inform hall residents of their civic rights and responsibilities. Other programs offer exposure to art, playwriting, gardening, and sports. Yoga is popular.

Inside YSC, buildings surround the football field and track to reduce the need for fences. Credit: San Mateo County

Brasil said the hall’s holistic, rehabilitative approach has a positive effect on a majority of the residents. Escape attempts are extremely rare. One former ward, charged with attempting to blow up a high school, finished his diploma at YSC despite dropping out of high school two years before he was detained. Before being sent to an adult facility on his eighteenth birthday, due to the gravity of his alleged offense, he also picked up origami and chess.

A Collaborative Effort

Collaboration among juvenile agencies sets San Mateo apart from other counties. Locating the bulk of juvenile agencies in YSC facilitates cooperation, while off-site departments, including the police and district attorney’s office, help evaluate YSC programs.

Diversion programs have flourished thanks to the Juvenile Assessment Center (JAC), a collaborative effort between on-site probation and health and human services agencies. The JAC evaluates juvenile offenders who are either county residents or whose offenses were committed in the county. Administrators are required to send youths accused of serious, violent crimes to court within 48 hours but can consider diversion programs for those accused of non-violent crimes like petty theft, vandalism, and minor drug offenses. Considering their criminal record and family situation, the JAC determines whether to put young people into diversion programs or on probation. Diversion programs include victim-offender mediation, alcohol and drug treatment, and petty-theft prevention.

Victim-offender mediation is particularly successful. The voluntary program puts victims and juvenile offenders face-to-face to discuss what happened and how to make it right. While many mediation programs are outsourced, San Mateo’s program is administered directly by the juvenile court and works closely with the JAC, police, schools, and youth service bureaus to identify individuals who could benefit from mediation. Because of these referral networks and the satisfaction of its participants, the program has grown significantly with 280 new referrals in the year ended June 30, 2008, compared with 300 in the two years ended June 30, 2005.

Tight Budget Closes Girls Camp

Classroom in Margaret J. Kemp Camp for Girls. Credit: San Mateo County

San Mateo is a relatively wealthy county, but funding continues to be one of the biggest challenges to its juvenile justice system. In July 2011 budget cuts shuttered the Margaret J. Kemp Camp for Girls, a rehabilitative residential center for young women. Opened down the street from YSC in December 2006, the 30-bed facility provided treatment and education to young women who struggled with recidivism, substance abuse, victimization, truancy, and gang affiliation.


County Budget Director Jim Saco told the San Francisco Examiner that the facility typically housed eight to 12 girls and cost more than $2 million a year to maintain. Another report said the county will still have to pay about $800,000 a year to coverconstruction debt and building maintenance for the facility even if it is closed. San Mateo Chief Probation Officer Stuart Forrest recommended closing Camp Kemp and told the San Mateo County Times that demand for the camp was downbecause of success in helping at-risk girls.

Occupancy Rates* of Girls and Boys Camps
Camp GlenwoodBodys87%47%80%75%83%
Camp KempGirls50%53%80%90%90%
Notes: *Occupancy rates refer to average daily population divided by total capacity.
† Values for 2009 are estimates.
‡Values for 2010 and 2011 are targets.
Source: All data are from San Mateo County’s recommended budget for 2010-2011.


According to the Probation Department’s website, average daily population at Kemp Camp was 21 in 2009, compared with 159 at YSC, and 31 at Camp Glenwood, a 60-bed boys’ camp established in 1961. The recommended county budget for 2010-2012 states that average daily population at Camp Glenwood was 87 percent of capacity in fiscal 2007, 47 percent in fiscal 2008, and an estimated 80 percent in fiscal 2009. Camp Kemp’s occupancy rate was lower than Camp Glenwood’s in 2007 (50 percent)—its first full year in operation—but higher in 2008 (53 percent) and estimated to be on par (80 percent) in 2009. Occupancy targets for 2010 and 2011 increase to 90 percent for the girls’ camp, surpassing boys’ camp targets of 75 and 83 percent.

YSC programs described on the Probation Department’s website list “Boys Council” as one of its “anchor” services and “Becoming a Man” and “Omega Boys Club” among its other programs. Although the aforementioned TNT life-skills program is not described as sex-specific on the website, Dui Hua was told that the program was for the older boys unit. The one girls initiative listed under the department’s juvenile services identifies Kemp Camp as phase one, implying that the foundation for girls’ programing has been weakened.

Overcrowding in women’s prisons suggests a need for preventative, early-stage rehabilitation facilities like Kemp Camp. Noting that San Mateo’s Women’s Correctional Center (WCC) operated at 160-220 percent of its 84-inmate capacity in late 2006, compared with 130 percent at a newer 688-inmate men’s facility, a grand jury concluded that the WCC “must be replaced” and that “solutions to the overcrowding problem must be sought in the context of the entire detention system, taking into account the special needs of women.”

A 2008 needs and assessment plan states that “overcrowding at WCC is further exacerbated by the lack of program space at WCC to support even the most basic programs at rated capacity.” In a video published by Peninsula Press in June 2011, San Mateo County Sheriff Greg Munks explains that the county could make a “long-term positive impact” by addressing the problems faced by women at WCC: substance abuse, 70 percent of the population; unemployment at time of arrest, 60 percent; serious mental health issues, 22 percent.

The six young women living at Kemp Camp when it was slated for closure have moved to YSC. Staff at the co-ed center has agreed to preserve the girls’ tailored program of classes and field trips. Given San Mateo’s problems with overcrowding, the county would do well to support its dedicated staff in doing so.

The Dui Hua Foundation thanks the following people for hosting the visit: San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Lee and Judge Susan Etezadi; San Mateo Probation Department staff Roy Brasil, Richard Hori, Ruth Laya, and Victor Aguilar; and Arbitration Dispute Resolution Center staff Sheila Rose Purcell and David Cherniss.