Disability Rights California Releases New Report and Calls on Sacramento County to Begin Transition Planning for the Foster Youth Residents and Phase out Its Use of Warren E. Thornton Youth Center

A facility in Sacramento County described as a “jail-like setting,” impacting foster youth including those with disabilities
Press Release

Disability Rights California Releases New Report and Calls on Sacramento County to Begin Transition Planning for the Foster Youth Residents and Phase out Its Use of Warren E. Thornton Youth Center

Metal sign for the front of the Warren E. Thornton Youth Center.

(Sacramento, CA) – Disability Rights California (DRC) releases a new report, “It Feels Like a Juvenile Hall to Me: A Snapshot of Conditions in the Warren E. Thorton Youth Center.” The foster youth at the WET Center are among the most vulnerable in the County. They come to the facility from disrupted placements and remain there because of the shortage of therapeutic placements and services in the Sacramento area. Many likely have disabilities; disabled youth are overrepresented in California’s foster care system1 and have significantly more placement disruptions and longer stays in the system than foster youth without disabilities.2

DRC learned through media reports that Sacramento County is housing foster youth at the Warren E. Thornton Youth Center (“WET Center”), in Sacramento County, which is an unlicensed facility formerly operated by Sacramento County Probation. The youth at the facility are between 12 and 17 years old.

Media reports and public records described the facility:

  • Having a carceral environment and conditions unsafe for foster youth.
  • According to the Sacramento Bee, foster youth sleep in cells with metal beds and toilets covered with wooden boxes.3
  • In its letter to the County dated Sept. 26, 2022, the California Office of the Foster Care Ombudsman described the facility as a “jail-like setting” that was “inconsistent with it being a safe, healthy and comfortable home.” 

In response, DRC’s Investigations Unit opened an investigation into the facility and conducted an unannounced site inspection on April 17, 2023. DRC inspectors found the facility’s conditions to unquestionably be that of a carceral facility, not the nurturing, homelike environment that the law requires. As one teenaged foster youth remarked to DRC inspectors, “It feels like a juvenile hall to me.”

“Our intent with this report is to show the public the reality of this situation – that Sacramento County is housing our most vulnerable foster youth in a carceral setting,” said Senior Investigator Jude Stern.

County officials also told DRC inspectors that behavioral health services are available only one day per week – an insufficient amount considering their complex needs and trauma histories. 

“The County must immediately increase the frequency and intensity of mental health services to help foster youth transition out of the facility and remain in their communities,” said Robert Borrelle, Supervising Attorney in the Investigations Unit.

"This report signifies a broader issue with congregate settings, and we will continue to advocate for more home- and community-based intensive behavioral and mental health services for foster youth. We look forward to continue working with legislators for better services and reform for foster youth," says Gregory Cramer, DRC Senior Legislative Advocate.

DRC learned through our inspection that in addition to applying for a license Sacramento County has made upgrades to the site, including the installation of electrical outlets in the cells. These actions suggest that the County may intend the WET Center to be a long-term solution. DRC agrees with others that the abrupt closure of the facility is not in the youth’s best interest. But the WET Center must only remain open in the short-term.

DRC calls on Sacramento County to immediately begin transition planning for each foster youth resident and phase out its use of the facility. DRC also does not support the creation of more congregate care settings as a response to this crisis. The County must increase investments in specialty mental health services like wrap-around so that foster youth can avoid placement disruptions and remain in their home- and community-based placements. 

Read the full report including images of the facility.

Media Contacts:

Melody Pomraning
Communications Director
Disability Rights California


Disability Rights California (DRC) – Is the agency designated under federal law to protect and advocate for the rights of Californians with disabilities. The mission of DRC is to defend, advance, and strengthen the rights and opportunities of people with disabilities.