Division of Juvenile Justice

The California Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) was previously known as the California Youth Authority (CYA). DJJ is a division in the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in California. The key functions of the DJJ are to provide training, education, and treatment services for youth who have committed serious crimes. The DJJ offers correctional services for youths ranging from 12 years to 25 years. Juvenile and criminal courts commit your offender's to DJJ's correctional facilities, conservation camps, and residential drug treatment programs. In the juvenile justice system, the DJJ's correctional facilities are the closest to the adult prisons. The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney can help you understand all the crucial aspects of the Division of Juvenile Justice.

Youths Committed to the Division of Juvenile Justice

For many years, the worst juvenile offenders in California were committed to the California Youth Authority, commonly abbreviated as CYA. In 2005, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation assumed the control of the CYA. The then California Youth Authority (CYA) is the current Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).

The DJJ provides correctional, education, and treatment services to youths ranging from 12 years to 25. Hundreds of thousands of youth offenders are arrested in California every year. However, only a small percentage of the youths are committed to the DJJ.

A minor can only be sent to the DJJ correctional facility under certain circumstances. The minor should be a ward of the court. This means that the juvenile court had assumed the responsibility of the minor. As a ward of the court, a minor is no longer under the custody of their parents. A minor will be committed to the DJJ is they are a ward of court and:

  • The minor has recently committed a crime that is listed under the WIC 707 (b)
  • The most recent offense that the minor committed is a sex offense outline under the California PC 290.008 (c)

Serious crimes that could make a minor to be committed to the DJJ are:

  • Rape
  • Murder
  • Robbery
  • Serious sex crimes

For a minor to be committed to the DJJ, they must not be below 11 years. If a minor has been sentenced to adult prison but has not yet attained 18 years, they will be placed with the DJJ and then transferred to adult prison after 18 years. However, if the minor can complete their sentence before turning 25 years, they may remain at the DJJ facility for the entire period. To stay in the DJJ and avoid being transferred to adult prison, a minor must take advantage of all the programs being provided at the DJJ.

When assigning a minor to a DJJ program, several factors that matter include the minors:

  • Maturity level
  • Age
  • Individual risk
  • Treatment needs
  • Educational needs

Correctional Facilities Under the Division of Juvenile Justice

All the facilities under the DJJ are locked facilities for the placement of the most serious juvenile offenders. Currently, there are three DJJ correctional facilities and one forestry camp. Two of the correctional facilities are situated in Stockton, while the third correctional facility is located in Camarillo. The DJJ's forestry camp is located in Pine Grove.

The primary aim of sending a youth to a correctional facility is not to punish the youth. Instead, the key purposes of sending juveniles to DJJ's correctional facilities are:

  • Victim restoration
  • Community restoration
  • Youth offender treatment and training

A youth offender may land in a correctional facility through a commission by the juvenile court. The offender could also be tried as an adult and committed by a criminal court to the correctional facility. An offender could also be tried as an adult by a criminal court, committed to an adult prison but housed in a juvenile correctional facility.

Before sending a juvenile offender to a correctional facility, the court might order a 90-day diagnostic study on the minor. The study will help the court determine the treatment needs for the minor and make treatment recommendations.

The three DJJ facilities and one forestry camp can hold 750 youths. While at the correctional facilities, youths are assigned to treatment programs based on their maturity levels, ages, individual needs, and educational needs. Every youth often has an Individual Change Plan that addresses their needs and areas of risk.

Every youth at a DJJ facility has Youth Correctional Counselor, commonly abbreviated as YCC. The YCC counsels the minor individually and in small groups. The YCC also monitors the minors' progress at the DJJ facilities and report the progress to the Board of Juvenile Hearings. Other professionals that monitor youths in correctional facilities are:

  • Casework Specialist or Parole Agent
  • Treatment Team Supervisor
  • Senior Youth Correctional Counselor
  • Mental Health Clinician if applicable
  • Education Representative

The Casework Specialist, Parole Agent, and the counselor work together with the youths to address their areas of risks and needs. They also monitor the youths' progress and report it to the BJH on an annual basis and at the Discharge Consideration Hearing.

Life in a DJJ's Correctional Facility

Typically, youths are committed to DJJ's correctional facilities for long periods and under severe conditions. While at the correctional facilities, children must attend school and fulfill all the required academic hours. If a youth completes high school while in a correctional facility, they join a vocational training or a college program.

The DJJ is responsible for providing education, both high school and college, for youth wards who do not have diplomas. At times, students remain out of class mainly due to security and safety issues or lack of adequate teachers. For security reasons and institutional safety, gang memberships' wards stay out of class or vocational training programs. This helps to prevent security issues that occur due to conflicts and gang tensions.

The vocational trainers and academic teachers who attend to the DJJ facilities' wards have the necessary credentials. The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing certifies the teachers.

The Youth Correctional Officers (YCC) oversees the training of the wards at the DJJ facilities. The education system in the Division of Juvenile Justice is part of the California Education Department.

Some youths land some paid tasks at the juvenile facilities. A portion of the money that the children receive is used to pay their court-ordered restitution to victims. Some of the typical tasks include:

  • Janitorial work
  • Landscaping
  • Food preparation

On top of the core programs, youths might be committed to additional programs and treatments based on their individual needs. The other treatment programs are:

  • Sexual behavior treatment
  • Mental health resident program
  • Behavior treatment
  • Intensive behavior treatment

DJJ aims to provide opportunities for growth for the youths confined in their facilities. Experts in juvenile facilities identify and respond to the unique needs of juvenile offenders. The DJJ achieves its objectives through education, treatment, and other interventions that foster positive lifestyles, strengthen families, reduce recidivism, and protect communities.  

Visitors, including the minor's friends and relatives, can visit a minor in a DJJ facility. However, it should be evident that the visitor does not pose a threat to the facility or its occupants. Every DJJ facility has in place some guidelines that visitors have to adhere to while accessing the facility. The visitor guidelines revolve around the appropriate dress mode, items to carry, and the number of visitors allowable in a facility.

The Length of Confinement in a DJJ

When the court is sending a minor to a confinement facility, the court has to determine the maximum length of the confinement. The confinement length in a DJJ facility should not be longer than an adult offender would serve in an adult jail for a similar offense. The judge may decide to set the DJJ term below the maximum adult term for a similar crime. There is no fixed minimum term for a juvenile commitment in a DJJ facility.

Before sending a juvenile to a DJJ facility, the court holds a juvenile disposition hearing. At the hearing, the court considers the facts of the minor's offense and the minor's criminal history. If the award of the court sentences for a crime that does not fall under WIC 707 (b), the ward should be freed after two years or after attaining 21 years, whichever comes later.

If a ward of the court commits an offense under WIC (b) with one exception, the ward should be discharged after serving two years or after attaining 23 years, whichever comes later.

If a youth commits an offense and is sentenced to 90 days or lower, the child must not be committed to a DJJ facility. The juvenile court has the mandate to modify the commitment to the Division of Juvenile Justice. For instance, a motion to alter the commitment can be filed if the child's needs are not being met at the DJJ facility. The court can change its previous orders if it finds that a minor does not benefit from a correctional facility's services.

After Release From the Division of Juvenile Justice Facility

After the release from a DJJ facility, youths are placed on parole. The Board of Juvenile Hearings, which is a department of DJJ:

  • Oversees/supervises the youths
  • Carries out the initial case reviews
  • Conducts annual reviews
  • Hold discharge hearings

Within 45 days of commitment, the Board of Juvenile Hearings must review every new ward's case. The board also sets a parole consideration date, depending on the seriousness of the minor's offense. For non-serious crimes, the parole consideration date might be within one year or less. However, for serious crimes like murder, the parole consideration date might be after seven years or longer.

The board must review every case at the Division of Juvenile Justice every year to determine whether there is a need to change or modify the existing orders. If a minor appears rehabilitated, the division of juvenile justice has the mandate

Conditions in the CYA (Now DJJ) Facilities

When juveniles were not attending school in the CYA facilities, they remained locked in their cells for up to 23 hours per day, just like the adult prisons' maximum-security inmates. The lengthy confinement of juveniles triggered criticism of the living conditions in the juvenile facilities. The governor spokesperson Arnold Schwarzenegger stated that the Juvenile facilities' prolonged confinement was not to punish the minors. The lengthy incarcerations were mainly to maintain order in the juvenile facilities. He also justified the lengthy detentions to prevent gang affiliations and reduce the threats of violence.

After arriving at the juvenile facilities, some youths were placed on psychotropic medications. Placing youths on these medications also triggered intense protects and litigation. In Juvenile facilities, the threat of violence is a common occurrence and distraction. In the past, deep systematic flows were present in the CYA now DJJ facilities. A report by the San Jose Mercury News in 2004 revealed that violence was predominant in the facilities, fear was pervasive, and gangs ruled in the facilities. The Mercury News also observes that young men were often isolated in different cells to fight and commit other offenses. The confinement facilities' living conditions were also deplorable as some wards threw human waste through the sots on their cell doors.

Some juveniles go to the extent of committing suicide while at the juvenile facilities. Experts consider the DJJ juvenile facilities the most violent juvenile confinements in the entire U.S. In 2005, General Brett Morgan issued a report seeking the end of the juveniles' 23-hour detention and criticized the Division of Juvenile Justice for failing to end this practice.  

There have been some calls to close the CYA now the DJJ on several occasions. For instance, in 2004, a videotape surfaced and revealed a guard at the Stockton facility punching a minor in the head repeatedly. There have been some instances of youths dying in the DJJ facilities. Critics argued that most juveniles released from the CYA (now DJJ) ended up in adult prisons. Critics further state that a significant percentage of the youths released from the facilities died within a few years of release and only a small portion of the youths continued with school or joined the workforce.  

No firearms are allowed in the juvenile institutions, and even the DJJ officers and guards are not armed.  A DJJ officer or guard will only have a gun if they are outside the juvenile facility.  For instance, an officer could have a firearm while transporting a juvenile offender to a medical facility or court. Following the intense criticisms, juvenile offenders in the DJJ facilities no longer stay in cages for long hours.

The CYA facilities harmed teens with mental health problems. The system failed to rehabilitate children accordingly according to the observations of independent experts. The current DJJ facilities emphasize the importance of the mental well-being of youths in the juvenile facilities.  The youths receive cognitive treatment depending on their individual needs.

Before the passage of Senate Bill 439, even the non-violent youth offenders would end up in the CYA facilities. California is among the largest states in the U. S and had the highest number of youth offenders and incarceration rates.

There was chronic overcrowding at the CYA facilities, an issue that attracted intense criticisms. The overcrowding also led to unsafe living conditions, numerous health issues, and gang violence prevalence.

Currently, the DJJ facilities hold around 750 youths out of the more than 225,000 youths arrested in California every year. Therefore, there has been a significant decongestion of the DJJ facilities as only the serious juvenile offenders join the facilities. The SB 439 recommends less restrictive rehabilitation of juvenile offenders in health, education, and community-based services. Currently, the rehabilitation of the vast juvenile offenders has shifted from the state counties. The state has channeled the necessary resources to counties and county consortiums to rehabilitate juvenile offenders.  

Persistent Problems in the DJJ Facilities

Recent research reveals several issues in the Division of Juvenile Justice Facilities despite the many promises to improve the DJJ facilities. Some of the findings from the study are:

  • Since 1996, youths in DJJ facilities in California have reduced by up to 93%. However, the DJJ facilities population still exceeds the recommended numbers to keep both the youths and the staff safe.
  • There is a persistent racial disparity in the confinement of juvenile offenders in the DJJ facilities. African American youths are confined 1.5 times more than white youths. On the other hand, Latino youths are detained 1.7 times more than the white youths
  • Youths in certain counties in California have a higher likelihood of placement in the DJJ facilities. Therefore, the odds of placement in the DJJ facilities depend on a youth's geography. Most of the youths' population at the DJJ facilities are from five counties out of 58 counties in California.
  • In the DJJ facilities, youths are subject to prison-like living conditions. The DJJ facilities have high metal fences, elevated surveillance stations, razor wire, metal furniture bolted on concrete floors, and living units lined with cells. While at the DJJ facilities, youths are no different from adult offenders in criminal prisons
  • The DJJ facilities are poorly maintained, and the deteriorating conditions pose significant health risks to youths. Some of the visible damages include severe water damage and rusted bathroom fixtures. Repairs of these worn-out facilities come with high costs, and the DJJ has neglected most of the repairs
  • For decades, DJJ has continued to operate open dormitories in the DJJ facilities. This makes youths vulnerable because they sleep in shared areas with their peers irrespective of the significant age differences
  • There are inadequate cameras and video monitoring in the DJJ facilities. This puts many youths at risk of unaddressed abuse and violence
  • Even with a small number of youths in the DJJ facilities, the staff-to-youth ratio is still inadequate and does not comply with the recommended best practices. Some facilities have a staff-to-youth ratio of 1:20, and this exceeds the recommended 1:16 ratio.
  • Most of the candidates who occupy the custody staff positions often responsible for DJJ's programming have backgrounds in corrections. Most of them tend to substitute the required experience and education with correction, which does not address the youths' individual needs.
  • During their confinement in the DJJ facilities, almost every youth faces violence. Several children are involved in violent incidences every month, especially after the end of the Farrell lawsuit
  • There has been an increase in the rates of beatings and riots in the DJJ confinement facilities.
  • Most of the time, youths are not placed in juvenile facilities that are closest to their homes. Instead, they are committed to DJJ facilities based on their presumed affiliation to gang membership. This assumption leads to juveniles' placement hundreds of miles from their families, which often harm them.
  • When juveniles leave the DJJ facilities, recidivism remains high, and around 74% of the youths are re-arrested. On the other hand, 54% of the youths are re-convicted, and 37% returned to state-level incarceration.
  • Many youths struggle with a lack of resources and unemployment after leaving the DJJ detention facilities. Around 61% of children formerly in the DJJ do not find employment or enroll in an education program after their release.
  • The release practices across different counties vary, and this often leaves many youths unsafe and unsupported. Some youths often transition from the DJJ facilities to county jails due to a lack of support.
  • There is strained coordination between the ICE officials and the DJJ, and this raises concerns regarding the youths' compliance with the law after release from DJJ facilities and harm to undocumented minors
  • The quality of education services provided in the DJJ facilities is questionable. The classes in the DJJ facilities lack rigor and are prone to constant interruptions by disorders and fighting. Youths who require special education are subjected to inconsistent educations services that, at times, violate their rights. Most of the students in juvenile facilities record dismal performance in maths, and most are not proficient in reading.

Find a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Despite the numerous reforms in the Division of Juvenile Justice and the passage of Senate Bill 439, some problems have persisted in the juvenile system. After your child is committed to the Division of Juvenile Justice, you might not know what to expect. The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney can help you understand how the DJJ works and defends your minor's rights. Contact us at 310-564-2605 and speak to one of our attorneys.  

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