Los Prietos Boys Camp | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

Santa Barbara County’s Los Prietos Boys Camp and Los Robles High School will soon be closing their doors, with significant decreases in the incarceration of youth offenders pushing the juvenile detention facility and adjoining school to integrate into the Juvenile Justice Center in Santa Maria. It’s unclear when the facility ​— ​in operation since 1944 ​— ​will officially close for good, though Chief Probation Officer Tanja Heitman said the Probation Department, which oversees the camp, hopes to complete the transition by June 2023. 

The camp has seen significant population decreases in recent years, with the most drastic decline in the last year. The camp’s population in 2018 was about 550, according to Heitman; there are currently eight boys housed at the camp. Although the department anticipated some increases, Heitman said there’s no reason to believe the camp’s population will return to previous levels. 

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The significant decrease in the camp’s population could be attributed to recent California legislation that prohibits youth offenders under the age of 16 from being tried as adults and the “cite and release” laws created during the COVID-19 pandemic. During an April 12 budget presentation to the Board of Supervisors, Heitman said the pandemic emphasized issues such as untreated behavioral health issues and basic needs within the justice population. 

During the budget presentation, Heitman said two main phases for this transition include modernizing some outdated facilities in the Juvenile Justice Center and updating the program and treatment plan, such as incorporating field trips, family furloughs, and occasional camping trips.

The Santa Barbara County Education Office operates Los Robles High School, the education arm of the camp, and Superintendent of Schools Susan Salcido said her office “will continue to offer the educational program we currently offer at Los Robles High School … until County Probation transitions to the Juvenile Justice Center in Santa Maria.” 

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