The Genesis youth work camp is not off to a roaring start. First announced by Gov. Mike Leavitt in a televised speech on juvenile crime last year, the camp has seen 31 inmates try to escape during its first six months. Two of them left Tuesday morning and were recaptured a short time later.
Six months is hardly enough time to judge whether the program is successful, but state officials clearly ought to begin rethinking their objectives for the program and the way it is administered.Some lawmakers say they feel betrayed. Genesis isn't the boot camp for teenagers they expected it to be. Their feelings are understandable, given the strident tone of Leavitt's speech last October. In it, he gave the impression the camp would be a tough and disciplined environment. "Gone will be your gang clothing and your gang haircuts and your gang signs," he said, addressing juvenile offenders. "You'll be doing hard manual labor."
However, the tone of his speech and the actual content of the bill that set up the camp were two different things, and lawmakers may not have been paying close enough attention. From the start, Genesis was described as a minimum-security program designed for youths nearing parole.
Even the earliest news accounts reported it was envisioned primarily as a way to free up more space at other youth correctional facilities. Its inmates were to leave on work crews during the day. With the money they earned, they were to pay back their victims. Violent offenders, sex offenders and the mentally ill were to be barred from the program.
Genesis occupies a building within the state prison grounds at Point of the Mountain. It wasn't intended as a boot camp. State officials pushing the idea never used that phrase. If lawmakers want a boot camp, they should set one up during the next legislative session.
Still, the apparent lack of discipline at the Genesis program is jarring. At the very least, inmates should be required to keep their personal spaces orderly and clean. They should be made to follow strict rules by no-nonsense task masters.
And anyone who tries to escape should be removed from the program and punished. Incredibly, the kids who run away from Genesis are not considered officially as escapees. At the moment, caseworkers are in the process of deciding whether the two who escaped Tuesday should remain in the program.
That's no way to teach young delinquents about the skills and habits they will need to succeed in society. No wonder inmates seem unafraid to run away from Genesis as quickly as they are admitted.
Genesis still holds the promise of teaching young offenders how to work and how to repay debts. In many ways, the program falls short of the tough atmosphere that surrounded the special legislative session that created it, but it should not be abandoned. The officials who administer it appear flexible enough to learn and adjust to problems.
However, no one should expect Genesis to rehabilitate hard-core juvenile offenders. For that, lawmakers will have to come up with something else.