Charm School Gives Troubled Girls Hope

At the Orange County Detention Center in California, they have a lot of something you don't normally associate with juvenile delinquency: girls. There are as many as 200 girls there at a time, CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman reports in this week's Assignment America.

Denise Esquevar is a fairly typical teen there. She's on her 10th visit for a range of actions related to gangs, drugs, stealing. The kid is street-smart, but not very Martha Stewart-savvy.

What would she do with a potato she was told to bake, for example?

"Probably put water on it, right, 'til it boils? I don't know," Denise says.

That's why the Orange County Detention Center is now putting some of its girls through a type of charm school. Ir's called "Mission Possible," and it teaches them how to eat, what forks to use, how not to beat up your dining partner, grooming and even salsa dancing.

Chief Probation officer Colleen Preciado says it's all aimed at keeping the kids from coming back. She seeks to "absolutely reduce, if not stop, the recidivism rates of these girls."

Preciado says the program will work because it will improve the girls' self-esteem and eventually turn lives around.

Whether this is a bonafide solution, or just California being weird again, the fact remains that something has to be done. Since 1990, violent crime among girls in America has increased almost four times faster than for boys.

"We have to do something or they will become a career criminal," Preciado says.

Jailing someone forever can cost more than $2 million. This program comes to about $2,000 per girl ... or hopefully, young lady.

Thanks to the program, Denise now knows "fish" can be a euphemism. She has also seen her very first un-fried potato — and hopefully her last … of this place.

"If those programs are going to keep me from coming back, then I'm going to do whatever it takes," Denise says. Even if it means salsa dancing? "Even if it means anything, bring it on!," she says.
  • Melissa McNamara

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