Ridge View: Tour the facility now allowed to mix abused kids with delinquents
Should abused and neglected boys be allowed to live at a facility for juvenile delinquents? That's the question explored in this week's cover story, "Bad Company." The facility in question is Ridge View Youth Services Center in Watkins, which can hold up to 500 boys and prides itself on its focus on academics and athletics. We took a tour with one of the youth at Ridge View. Here's what it was like.
Ridge View is in the middle of nowhere. Only one tiny sign along E-470 points toward the facility -- and if you're driving the 45 minutes from Denver, it's on the wrong side of the road. Jerry Adamek was the head of the Division of Youth Corrections when Ridge View was built and now works as a senior consultant for Rite of Passage, the for-profit company that operates the facility in a public-private partnership with the state. Though the state owns the facility, it pays Rite of Passage to house delinquent boys who've been committed to DYC. Adamek explains that the facility's larger roadside signs usually end up with bullet holes in them -- not from the youth at Ridge View, but from gun-happy motorists with few targets along that lonely stretch.
A winding two-mile side road separates Ridge View from E-470. Endless expanses of patchy green and brown grass surround the campus, and administrators joke that the reason Ridge View has a fence is not to keep the kids in but to keep the cows out. (There are indeed cows out there; Westword saw one grazing next to the fence during our visit.) Technically, a boy could walk away from Ridge View, but the location is so remote that without transportation, it'd be a long hike to civilization.
A boy named Steven leads Westword on a tour. Nineteen years old and from Aurora, Steven wound up at Ridge View because he ran out of second chances after committing a burglary when he was fifteen. "Probation violations got me here," he says as four adults, a combination of school officials and public relations people, listen in. He says it matter-of-factly, as if he's used to publicly owning up to his wrongdoing.
Even though it's warm outside, Steven is wearing a maroon letterman jacket with a big R on the breast. Boys can earn the jackets for good behavior, and those who do are called Rams -- just like the facility's sports teams. In addition to the jackets, Rams earn privileges that include special dinners and time to play games.
The tour starts in one of the school buildings. Like most buildings here, it's made of inviting blonde stone. The doors and window frames are maroon to match the school colors, and the hallways and classrooms look like they could be in any ordinary high school -- albeit one where the students wear the same clothes, have the same haircut and never ditch class, because they can't.
This part of Ridge View is a charter school authorized by Denver Public Schools called Ridge View Academy, an innovative idea that allows committed youth to earn actual high school diplomas from DPS. Steven stops outside each classroom and recites the teacher's name, the subject and a fact or two about the class. The biology and earth science teacher is tough, he says. "Some kids push through it," he adds, while others give up. Those who don't follow school rules are sent to the "refocus" room, where they must remain all day.
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