The NYC is a state-funded agency that houses boys ages 15 through 21 who have committed crimes that are punishable by jail time. As intimidating as it may sound, upon entering, if feels closer to a positive rehabilitation center. The welcoming administration staff and the scenic grounds quickly banish any preconceived images of barbed wire fencing and mean-mugging guards.
The residents are housed in lodges and guarded at all times. The habitants of each lodge are carefully separated to avoid possible gang related incidents. When it’s time for a meal, the guards lead one lodge at a time to the dining hall until they are finished.
Though the calm nature of this establishment is reassuring, it’s important to remember that this is still a prison in so many ways. This prison houses boys who have committed felonies from burglary to sex crimes and often times can still be dangerous. However, they are not lost causes.
Naselle Youth Camp proudly has many rehabilitation therapies in order to prepare its students for reintegration into society. Cognitive Behavior Therapy is one of those offered and is implicated through changing an offenders environment little by little, thus effectively changing the thought process that lead them to making destructive choices in the first place. It forces the student to face their actions head on and look closely at what they can do to change.
The sex offender treatment program is a bit more in depth and requires much of the student’s time in hopes that they will not offend again. They are taught to take responsibility for their actions and to recognize exactly what they have done. Over 40 hours of classroom time are spent working on victim empathy to increase sensitivity to the feelings of others. Through relapse prevention, family support classes, sexual education, social skills training, anger reduction therapy, and much more, the offenders are reshaped for a productive life in society upon their release.
Also in place are chemical dependency treatment for students who arrive with a substance abuse problem and mental health treatment for those whose personal issues may have led to a poor decision.
Each resident is sent through a lengthy assessment program to determine where he or she should be placed and what treatments would be best for him or her. This includes a physical health examination. Each boy is given the health care that he requires. The onsite clinic mirrors that of a fully functional clinic one might find anywhere. The clinic is staffed with patient people who have a very personal interest in the well being of each resident at NYC, a quality seemingly shared by all those employed at the camp.
Superintendent, Bill Baum said, “It takes a real level of dedication to work here. These people are all invested in the success of the boys who come through here.”
The programs offered lend to the rehabilitation image. Just about anybody would be interested in at least one of these programs and they offer many. The skills that are developed through these programs are usable not only in day-to-day life, but also as these boys begin searching for a job.
Thanks to an ongoing partnership with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, the youth of the camp can be trained in fire fighting, fire cleanup, and State Trust Land maintenance. On these jobs the boys earn a gratuity that is either applied to their restitution, as they owe it or saved for them and allotted in a lump sum check upon their release. They also gain vocational credits and invaluable hands on experience that is recognized in many job fields.
For those in need of deeper disciplinary action, the camp offers Camp Outlook; a juvenile offender basic training camp modeled after military training. Outlook teaches these boys to make responsible life decisions and well as to be responsible for their own actions through counseling programs, physical training, and education. Each trainee is taught not only to respect authority, but also to respect himself or herself and to recognize their self-worth through programs and activities that produce reasons for them to be proud.
In 2002, Washington state found that students that participated in the basic training program had significantly lower recidivism rates than those who did not.
Naselle Youth Camp’s Aquaculture program runs a functional hatchery facility. A cement raceway runs from nearby Pete’s Creek and supplies the site’s incubators and pens with water. The boys in the program raise trout and salmon to learn every aspect of maintaining a fish environment. They stock many popular fishing spots throughout the county including our very own Case’s Pond. On top of this, they assist with local stream restoration and in the Naselle and Nemah Hatcheries.
Students of the culinary department work in the camp’s kitchen serving three square meals per day. They are required to obtain their Food Handlers Card through the Washington State Health Department. All aspects of a kitchen are taught from food safety and sanitation to punctuality and teamwork skills in order to keep the culinary program running smoothly.
Also located within the camp is a fully functional sign shop, which is run by the students. They create signs and banners for local companies and organizations. The students are in charge of keeping accounts, taking orders, designing and creating the signs, and figuring costs allowing them to gain highly marketable skills.
The students enrolled in the Maintenance Training Program for Residents handle most of the onsite maintenance. With 26 buildings resting on 15 acres of land, there is a constant necessity for landscaping and repair. The maintenance department employs only eight individuals, which leaves much to be done. This is where resident work crews come in. They work hands on with the carpenter, electrician, mechanics, caretaker, and the Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator to get hands on experience and in depth knowledge surrounding these areas. This experience makes them invaluable to the quality of the grounds that house the camp. It also gives the boys a reason to take pride in the establishment that houses them.
Aside from keeping busy, religion is believed to be a major tool in rehabilitating anyone, especially young people that are open and susceptible to change. Naselle Youth Camp offers religious services for any denomination. Religious figures from nearby churches volunteer to work with the students throughout the week. Groups from around the state provide special events surrounding their religions such as live music and dramas.
The camp is home to a rather impressive Native American sweat lodge as well. A sweat lodge is a Native American church in many ways. It is used for prayer and purification ceremonies. The lodge is designed to encompass the traditions of many Native tribes while respecting the customs of the Colville Tribe who built the sweat lodge and volunteer to teach students about Native American beliefs and customs.
While learning marketable and applicable skills through hands on training is important, a classroom education can also be invaluable for someone trying to turn their life around. The Naselle/Grays River School District has a day and night school located at the camp. Many of the boys that come to NYC are behind in school. The onsite school provides structured but individualized learning that fits each students needs and provides the best avenue for their success whether their working towards a high school diploma or a GED. From 2002 to 2008, Four Hundred and fifty-one NYC residents obtained their GEDs.
The turnover rate at NYC was stated to be approximately 1/3 of their population per month. That’s 1/3 of their population being equipped with applicable life skills and the necessary tools to develop a normal productive lifestyle. The staff of the camp seem truly dedicated to their cause and while keeping the necessary structure, have cultured an environment in which it would be hard not to flourish.
In recent rumors, it was said that the Naselle Youth Camp might be shut down due to budget cuts and lack of necessity.
However, Superintendent Spencer Mooers would like to dispel those rumors, saying, “We’re off the chopping block again!”
It sounds as though NYC is here to stay.
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