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Editorial - Overhaul VisionQuest

October 06, 1997

When the VisionQuest wilderness camp for juvenile offenders opened on the campus of the South Mountain Restoration Center in 1992, officials said that although the young offenders wouldn't be fenced in, they would be heavily supervised to prevent escapes.

Five years later, after a steady stream of escapes, including 12 in the past two months, neighbors say they've had enough. We agree with them; it's time for a change in security arrangements there.

Camp officials originally believed that the relative isolation of the Franklin County site would deter youths from running away, as they had at the rate of more than 30 a year in a similar camp in Reading, Pa. Intense community pressure forced the closing of that camp, and many of its workers were transferred to the Franklin County facility.

When the local camp opened in 1992, director Robert Sobolevitch said that despite escapes from other camps, he hadn't encountered much local opposition to the idea. But that was then.

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Since then, the files of The Herald-Mail have been filed with a steady stream of escapes from the facility, some involving auto theft and burglary. There've been 38 escapes so far this year, as compared to 12 last year, making it clear that whatever officials were counting on to keep kids in camp isn't working.

Right now camp officials handle escapes by notifying neighbors by phone, usually in the middle of the night. Neighbors who've spoken to The Herald-Mail have described the feeling of anxiety that descends on their community as the sun goes down, and they don't like it.

In our view, with all the technology available today, it should be a simple matter to set up an electronic perimeter around the camp. Perhaps the sensors could be motion detectors that would turn on lights and sirens, or perhaps they could be infrared heat sensors.

Expensive? Sure, but the "trust us to handle it" approach hasn't worked. Now it's time to restore neighbors' confidence with some sophisticated surveillance of these young offenders.

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