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VENTURA SCHOOL IS GIRLS-ONLY ENTIRE CYA PROGRAM SCRUTINIZED.

Byline: Andrea Cavanaugh Staff Writer

CAMARILLO - The Ventura Youth Correctional Facility, a California Youth Authority lockup in Camarillo rocked by sex scandals in the past, has returned to female-only status.

Officials marked the shift to an all-female facility with a ceremony Friday, even as state officials considered whether to abolish the troubled CYA system altogether.

``The Legislature has the right to ask questions,'' facility Superintendent Eugenia Ortega said during the ceremony. ``Ventura has the answer. The answer is that we do care for our girls.''

The transition to an all-female facility, completed Feb. 1, means the Ventura lockup will be the only one in the state to house the system's 226 female wards. The facility once housed 275 males, who have been transferred to other CYA facilities.

The change is expected to save the state $2 million a year, said Sarah Ludeman, a spokeswoman for the CYA.

The state has run costly duplicate programs for male and female wards in Camarillo since a series of sex scandals and pregnancies forced them to be separated by a 16-foot-high, $1 million fence, Ludeman said.

``Basically, we ran two institutions under one roof,'' she said. ``It will simplify it on a lot of fronts.''

Five years ago, 15 staff members at the Camarillo facility were fired or forced to resign for having inappropriate relationships with wards.

Started in 1913 as the Ventura School for Girls, the facility moved to its current location in 1962. It was an all-female institution until 1970.

The change comes as the entire CYA system struggles for survival.

In Northern California, 11 counties are considering whether to form their own regional agency to incarcerate violent juvenile offenders.

A state Senate oversight committee recommended during a hearing Thursday that the troubled system be dismantled, and a legislative analyst recommended a shift to a county-based system.

The CYA's population has dropped nearly 50 percent since 1995 as more counties incarcerate violent juvenile offenders locally, Ludeman said.

The CYA incarcerates youthful offenders convicted of violent crimes such as murder, robbery, rape and kidnapping. Those who cannot complete their sentences by age 21 are transferred to adult prisons at age 18.

Andrea Cavanaugh, (805) 583-7602

andrea.cavanaugh(at)dailynews.com

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Photo:

Ventura Youth Correctional Facility Superintendent Eugenia Ortega, center, greets visitors as youth counselor Patty Gutierrez, left, and program administrator Alberta Mock stand by.

Joe Binoya/Special to the Daily News
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Feb 21, 2004
Words:401
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