Youth detention facility’s behavioral structure criticized

No matter how well-behaved they are, murder suspects should not be rooming with teens accused of petty crimes, San Mateo County supervisors and residents told officials in charge of the county juvenile detention facility Tuesday.

The comments were made at a Board of Supervisors hearing in which supervisors unanimously authorized an independent probe into the Feb. 14 escape of 17-year-old murder suspect Josue Raul Orozco from the Youth Services Center.

The escape was the first from the 2-year-old Youth Services Center, a juvenile detention facility located in the Highlands neighborhood in the hills west of San Mateo.

Currently, the facility’s youths are segregated based on their behavior, not their alleged crime, said Loren Buddress, chief probation officer at the Probation Department, the agency in charge of the facility.

Supervisor Jerry Hill said it seems “outrageous” to house youths accused of minor crimes “who we want to rehabilitate” on the “same environment as violent criminals.”

The sentiment was echoed Tuesday by Cary Weist, president of the Highlands Neighborhood Association, and Paul Everett Carreras, a lawyer who has represented juvenile clients in the Peninsula.

“The juvenile system is supposed to help young kids go straight, and how’s that going to happen if you have a roommate who’s a gangbanger?” Carreras asked.

Orozco allegedly escaped with the assistance of two other inmates, 18-year-olds Martin Villa Patino and Vanher Cho.

If the inmates had been segregated based on crime rather than behavior, it’s possible Patino or Cho might not have been in the same cohort as Orozco, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

Wagstaffe also said that at least one of the two inmates was charged with only a minor misdemeanor.

Buddress said the office will consider the suggestions to re-evaluate the way it segregates its inmates, and will also reconsider how many 18- and 19-year-olds it houses — a decision made by both the Probation Department and county courts.

Since the escape, he said, the Probation Office has transferred not only Patino and Cho to the adult facility, but three other 18-year-olds in custody.

“We have heard and we also understand the concerns of our neighbors,” he said.

The Probation Department, the agency in charge of the facility, expects to complete its own internal investigation into the matter within the week, Buddress said.

kworth@examiner.com

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