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HomeNewsA Supreme Court Judge Has Decided Not to Send Kids to Prison

A Supreme Court Judge Has Decided Not to Send Kids to Prison

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In Salinas, California, a Supreme Court Judge decided not to send kids directly to prison but to allow them to turn their lives around. Judge John Phillips served as a district attorney for 13 years and 21 as a judge.

A collage of the ranch's entrance and Judge Philips making a speech at an event
Source: Rancho Cielo Youth Campus / Facebook

During his time, he saw all kinds of cases. Assault, thefts, and shooting. Judge Phillips also gave stiff sentences to many children standing before his courtroom. However, 23 years ago, something in his courtroom made him reconsider the prison sentences.

There was a boy who had committed a murder. The young boy stood in Philips’ court, angry and unremorseful. However, when his grandmother walked in, all that changed. “He broke down and started crying,” Phillips said. “He was just a kid and I’m thinking, ‘I’m sending kids to prison for life.'”

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Right during that courtroom in 2000, George Phillips decided to handle such cases differently. He became driven to give the children who walked into his court an opportunity to overcome the poverty, trauma, and pain that surrounded their lives.

Phillips, now 81, thought about creating a facility or institution to help the children of Monterey County before they ended up in a police cell or a courtroom.

So, he decided to repurpose an old abandoned juvenile incarceration facility. The Natividad Boys’ Ranch was closed in 1982 and has since been reduced to an overgrown abandoned facility in the hills at the eastern end of Salinas. And so, Rancho Cielo was born.

Rancho Cielo has been renovated and refurbished to meet today’s standards. Today, you could think you are looking at an elite private school instead of a unique institution that caters to kids who are having a hard time in high school.

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The compound has several beautiful, colorful buildings, well-lit rooms, well-equipped workshops, and many outdoor activities to keep the kids busy.

More than 220 students in Monterey County between the ages of 16 and 24 choose to attend the school yearly. No one is forced to be there by the court or their parents. Also, some students don’t make it through the school and graduate. However, students benefit from a supportive, therapeutic, intensive program that helps them realize their potential.

Furthermore, Judge Phillips and Rancho Cielo have received praise for their effort and contribution to improve the lives of kids in the community.

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The Director of California Institute on Law, Neuroscience and Education, Liz Steyer, said, “What they are doing is awesome.” The Institute is studying Phillips” program in hopes that they might be able to replicate it in other areas across the country.

Additionally, it costs less to teach students at Rancho Cielo. The government spends more than $110,000 to incarcerate a juvenile, but Rancho Cielo costs $25,000.

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Thanks to its success. Most students are choosing Rancho Cielo. Even those with no issues with the law just want a more engaging program that will provide the support they need. The school provides necessary support to help students build their future or careers. It prepares them for college as well as good jobs.

Rancho Cielo started out with just 94 students, but today it has 214. People no longer consider it a place for troubled kids but where students can come if regular high school isn’t working out for them.

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