A proposal to convert the existing Ventura Conservation Camp near Camarillo into one which would house parolees for firefighting training has been met with resistance from city officials who say that it could bring unwanted trouble to the area.
The camp, currently operated by CalFire and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, is located at 2800 Wright Road on county property, but adjacent to Camarillo city limits. The proposal would convert the facility into the so-called Ventura Training Center (VTC), operated by the two aforementioned agencies plus the California Conservation Corps.
Proposed for the site: an 18-month course for up to 80 parolee participants to be trained in “fire suppression, emergency incident response and to perform fire prevention and resource management work,” according to Vicky Waters, press secretary for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
The conceptual idea to convert the facility was included in Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed 2018-2019 budget year through a joint effort of Cal Fire, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the California Conservation Corps. Camarillo Mayor Charlotte Craven says that the city was not consulted before the addition.
A request for $26.9 million in state funds in the budget would include $7.7 million to operate the program, as well as $18.9 million to fund renovations of the camp. Should the program be approved, the first 20 parolees would begin training in October, with additional parolees added monthly until the maximum of 80 is reached.
Parolees who take part in the program would receive 18 months of training and an entry-level firefighter’s certification, as well as a $1,900 month salary.
On Wednesday, March 31, the Camarillo City Council voted to draft a letter in opposition to the proposal to be delivered to the governor’s oOffice as well as to lawmakers who worked on drafting the budget.
“The parolees who make application to this new program will be low-level felony offenders, but their offenses can include burglary and robbery,” wrote City Manager Dave Norman in an agenda report.
“Establishing a de facto halfway house for former felons (whose offenses may have included burglary and robbery) in such close proximity to some of the most exclusive residential neighborhoods in Camarillo is a concern.”
The camp is located within walking distance of the Bella Vista and Sterling Hills neighborhoods.
“The standards for selection and ongoing performance at VTC are higher than those for offenders released to traditional parole supervision,” said Waters. “CAL FIRE and CDCR will carefully screen each candidate, and participants may be removed from the program at any time if CAL FIRE or CDCR believes their performance level is not acceptable.”
Parolees approved for the program will not include those who have been convicted of arson, sex offenses or who have a history of escape with force or violence, said Waters, adding that the camp will be a drug- and alcohol free zone, and that enrollees will need to adhere to a curfew of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. weekdays and 10 p.m. to 9:30 a.m. weekends. Parolees are able to leave campus for shopping, religious services or to visit family, however, on days off.
The camp also sits adjacent to a youth correctional facility housing both boys and girls under the age of 18, and the California Conservation Campus, which houses young women between 18 and 25 years of age. Craven says that one of her primary concerns is the facility’s proximity of these two groups of young people to the recently released felons in VTC.
“The concern is that here are 80 men who have been in prison for a long time and 30 young women a seven-minute walk away,” said Craven. “I just don’t think that’s a healthy situation.”
Waters says that qualified enrollees would already have been paroled and that participants must meet strict criteria, including having already served in a CAL FIRE/CDCR conservation camp while incarcerated, which requires minimum-custody status, “the lowest classification for inmates based on their nonviolent behavior in prison, conformance to rules within the prison and participation in rehabilitative programming.”
“VTC will provide opportunities for participants to develop and enhance life skills through education and employment readiness programming, creating a pathway for former offenders to better compete for entry-level firefighting jobs,” said Waters.
Craven says that a similar issue has been taken on by the city in the past, when an item in a budget proposal would have converted a former psychiatric hospital into a prison for the mentally ill.
“That instead became CSU, Channel Islands,” said Craven. “I don’t know if we’ll be successful or not, I hope we are.”