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Some of California's youngest criminals will receive on-the-job training in refurbishing used computers under an unusual partnership between the state and a local philanthropy. Those computers in turn will help equip the Golden State's classrooms for the information age.

The San Diego-based Detwiler Foundation formed a partnership last month that pairs its Computers for Schools program with the California Youth Authority, a state agency that supervises 9,500 juvenile and other young offenders.

To launch the venture, 115 computers repaired by the agency's inmates were donated to 23 schools in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties.

John Detwiler, the foundation's president, said the program helps both young offenders and the schools. "It trains young offenders to escape the vicious cycle of crime, prepares students for a competitive economy, and enables businesses and concerned individuals to help address both needs by donating quality used computers," he said.

Founded in 1991, the Detwiler Foundation has donated 11,000 refurbished computers to California schools, making it the state's single largest provider of school computers.

About 1,200 schools rely on the program's computers--which previously were refurbished only by vocational-education and community-college students--to upgrade their technology.

Major companies throughout California, including the g.t.e. Corporation, the International Business Machines Corporation, and Wells Fargo Bank, have formed partnerships with the Computers for Schools program.

Last year, the foundation announced that it was working with Pacific Bell, one of the regional telephone-operating companies, as part of the company's efforts to provide every school in its service area with access to the information highway.

Pacific Bell officials said Computers for Schools would be the most cost-effective way to give schools access to telecommunications networks while improving the state's ranking as 48th in the nation in the ratio of students to computers.

Officials estimate that it would cost $2 billion to adequately reduce the student-to-computer ratio with new computers.

Diana Detwiler, the executive director of the Computers for Schools Program, noted that California could rank first in the nation in the ratio of students to computers in three years if only 10 percent of the computers taken out of service statewide could be refurbished and given to schools.

--Peter West

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