California Division of Juvenile Justice

California Division of Juvenile Justice

The California Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), formerly known as the California Youth Authority (CYA), is a division of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation that provides education, training, and treatment services for California's most serious youth offenders. These youths are committed by the juvenile and criminal courts to DJJ's eleven correctional facilities, four conservation camps and two residential drug treatment programs. The DJJ provides services to juvenile offenders, ranging in age from twelve to 25, in facilities and on parole, and works closely with law enforcement, the courts, district attorneys, public defenders, probation offices and other public and private agencies involved with the problems of youth. The DJJ is undergoing reorganization as required by a court agreement and the California State Legislature after widespread criticisms of conditions at its youth prisons.

Mission and Vision

As of 2004, the CYA's stated mission:
*"The California Youth Authority will contribute to the protection of society from the consequences of criminal activity by providing youthful offender rehabilitation through education, training, treatment, and parole services that provide a continuum of care and assist with the reintegration of youthful offenders into society."

CYA vision:
*"The California Youth Authority will contribute to the public safety of the citizens of California by maintaining a safe and secure therapeutic environment, which will result in the optimum delivery of rehabilitative services for wards charged to its care."


The CYA is legally required to provide a high school education for every ward who does not already have a diploma. However, students are sometimes kept from class because of safety and security situations, or teacher vacancies. Validated gang associates are sometimes kept from classroom or vocational training for institutional safety and security reasons relative to gang tensions or conflict. Academic teachers and vocational instructors are credentialed through the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. The Education area of the institution is referred to as the "Education Corridor" or "Trade Line", reflecting the Vocational Training focus of the institution. The Trade Line is monitored by security professionals known as "Youth Correctional Officers." (YCO). Students are escorted to the Trade Line from their living areas by "Youth Correctional Counselors" (YCC). The Educational System in the DJJ is part of the California Department of Education and each site is required to maintain accreditation through the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.


On non-school days, maximum security inmates are locked in their cells for 23 hours a day. A spokesman for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's prisons department said lengthy lockdowns at DJJ facilities were no longer used as punishment, but were sometimes necessary to maintain order. One of the justifications for such treatment is gang affiliation and the threat of corresponding violence.

Many, perhaps a majority, of the children at some DJJ facilities are placed on psychotropic medications, a matter that has triggered protests and litigation.

The threat of violence is a constant distraction at DJJ facilities. In 2004, a six-month investigation by the "San Jose Mercury News" uncovered deep systemic flaws, concluding that violence was predominant, gangs ruled, and fear was pervasive. The "Mercury News" reported that, at any given time, dozens of young men are held in isolation cells for fighting or other offenses at the state's two maximum security facilities, and that wards sometimes threw human waste, blood or semen through the slots in their cell doors.

Experts who have studied the prisons have declared them the most violent in the nation, and there have been six suicides in California's juvenile jails between 2000 and 2005.

In January, 2005, Chief Deputy Inspector General Brett Morgan issued a report calling for the elimination of 23 hour aday incarceration policies for wards placed in administrative segregation and criticized the DJJ for failing to end the practice. The inspector general's report outlines Maldonado's history and offers a portrait of Chaderjian as a violent lockup where gang leaders seem to have more clout than the Youth Correctional Officers.


Beginning in 2000, CYA was featured regularly in news headlines across the state. Local and national media reported rampant violence, staff-on-ward beatings, canine attacks, multiple suicides, extended 23-hour lockdowns, and children attending classes while confined in cages. That year, a Sacramento federal judge rejected a class action suit on behalf of all CYA inmates, declaring they had failed to back up claims forming the basis of their bid for sweeping revisions of CYA policies and procedures. []

The judge did allow three defined groups of wards to sue in three specific categories of contention on constitutional grounds. Wards forcibly medicated with a psychotropic drug without a hearing were enabled to challenge CYA's forced drugging policy. Wards committed for sexual offenses were allowed to challenge sex offender treatment programs in which they were placed. Wards placed in isolation for their own safety without a hearing were also allowed to proceed with litigation.

In a separate lawsuit, the Prison Law Office complained that "Rehabilitation cannot succeed when the classroom is a cage and wards live in constant fear of physical and sexual violence from CYA staff and other wards." [] In January, 2002, a federal conditions lawsuit was filed against CYA by a coalition including the Prison Law Office. The suit was refiled In January, 2003, as Farrell v. Harper (later renamed Farrell v. Hickman. The parties agreed to jointly select national experts to determine the nature and extent of the CYA's problems. By 2004, Governor Schwarzenegger had settled that lawsuit and pledged to make significant changes, but his administration has missed several court-imposed deadlines to implement reforms, including policies regarding suicide prevention, according to Specter. A special master was appointed to oversee reform implementation.

In 2001, another lawsuit against CYA prompted a San Francisco judge to direct the CYA to obtain licenses for all eleven of its health care facilities within two years. []

DJJ previously housed over 6,000 youths; now with court-ordered reforms, numbers are down by two-thirds. Plaintiff's attorneys who document these changes also note many changes in the conditions of confinement, health services, etc.

Its predecessor, CYA, had a $387 million annual budget as of 2004. Each year, well over 2,000 young offenders are admitted to DJJ, while a similar number are released. Most wards are committed for violent crimes, and are institutionalized for over two years on average, at a cost to the state of over $71,000 per inmate each year, an increase of over 130%, from $30,783 in 1990. In recent years, California's juvenile justice system has received intense and increasing criticism from experts nationwide for running youth prisons.

tockton: N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility

The N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility in Stockton is one of the CYA's two maximum security lockups, and was described as the home for the worst-of-the-worst juvenile offenders. Chaderjian, also known as "Chad", earned national headlines in 2004 "when guards were captured on film kicking and punching wards."Martin, Mark. [ Prison blamed in teen death. Staff withheld mental help and used a prohibited lockdown before his suicide, report says.] "San Francisco Chronicle", December 30, 2005.]

In August, 2005, 18 year old Joseph Daniel Maldonado hanged himself at Chaderjian, sparking yet another round of outcries about conditions and calls for closure. In the eight weeks before he died, Maldonado had barely been let out of his cell and was denied family visits, mental health care and educational services. A report by California's Office of the Inspector General states "the effects of this eight-week isolation and service deprivation may have contributed to the Ward’s suicide." [Office of the Inspector General. [ Special Review into the Death of a Ward on August 31, 2005 at the N. A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility.] State of California, December 2005. Accessed 16 Jul 2008.] Don Specter, director of the Prison Law Office, was quoted as saying "This is the first report that directly links their [i.e., the guards'] practices with a death."

The extended lockdown at the facility was contrary to the rehabilitative mission of the state's youth corrections system, according to state officials. Deputy Inspector Morgan said the eight-week lockdown was known about by at least two top-level juvenile corrections officials in Sacramento.

During lockdowns, wards are allowed showers three times a week, but are given no time to attend school, exercise or interact with mental health professionals.

The Prison Law Office website notes recent mission changes include reducing the number of the offenders and decreasing lockdowns. Fact|date=July 2008 The most recent report noted "It appears that the steps that CDCR and DJJ have taken since June 2007have improved DJJ’s management effectiveness and the capacity of CDCR/DJJ businesssystems; however, issues of effectiveness and capacity continue to interfere with DJJ’sprogress towards compliance with the remedial plans." The same report notes that Chad has hired scores more psychologists and psychiatrists to attend to youth needs. [Brorby, Donna. [ Seventh report of Special Master.] Superior Court of California, City and County of Alameda. April 17, 2008.]

Female Wards

Wards placed at the Ventura School have the opportunity to learn fire fighting skills at the CALFIRE sponsored Training Facility adjacent to the main grounds of the institution in Camarillo, CA. Wards also learn non-traditional vocational skills such as filmmaking, barbering, dog grooming, for example. Through legislation introduced by Senator Gloria Romero in 2007, female wards may be placed in community-based corrections facilities in the future. A change that would allow for placement of male wards in a closed, nurturing environment more conducive to rehabilitation. Ventura has been considered for conversion to an Adult prison hospital.

Foster grandparent programs

Because few parents participate, foster grandparents at DJJ facilities fill the role of surrogate parents. All foster grandparents receive training from Special Education Resource Specialists and multi-language training.


Juvenile justise expert reports, spurred by litigation against the CYA, were released in January, 2004. Their reports confirmed serious abuses and major deficiencies in virtually every aspect of the CYA's operation, and criticized the agency for failing in its rehabilitative and public safety mission. The experts found the CYA to be incompetent in every area reviewed: the safety of the facilities, the quality of education and health care, and the efficacy of the mental health, substance abuse and other treatment programs. The system, according to the experts, was not simply failing to rehabilitate, it was demonstrably inflicting damage on incarcerated youths, who were often discharged with increased criminal sophistication, entrenched gang involvement and exacerbated mental illness.

On September 1, 2005, DJJ submitted a report on youth corrections reform to the California Legislature. The report required DJJ to file quarterly reports on steps taken, using $1.2 million in fiscal year 2005-06 planning funds, toward implementing an overall reform plan, including any proposed changes in population, jurisdiction or length of stay or changes in state-local juvenile justice responsibilities and "specific objectives, tasks and timelines." However, DJJ presented no objectives, tasks or timelines for reform. Nor did it offer new plans to adjust the institutionalized population. Rather, DJJ said that "at this time" the department does not propose to change any state laws with respect to "jurisdictional eligibility criteria, including age, gender, offense criteria, medical or mental health needs or length of confinement". [Steinhart, David. [ Juvenile Justice Division submits tepid reform status report to Legislature.] Commonweal, The Juvenile Justice Program. November 2005.]

Criticism and calls for closure

There have been many calls to shut down DJJ/CYA altogether. A spate of such calls came in the wake of scandals arising after a video tape surfaced, in 2004, of a youth being punched in the head repeatedly by a guard at the Stockton facility and two youths dying there.

Critics point to reports that over 90% of those released from DJJ (then CYA) ended up in adult prison, and that within three years five percent are dead and only four percent are in school or working. The DJJ facilities are called 'gladiator schools' by critics. If a child does not belong to a gang upon entry to one of the facilities, critics contend, DJJ effectively assigns inmates to one or another, often based on racial criteria.

DJJ officers and guards ARE NOT armed - no firearms are allowed within juvenile institutions. Firearms are only on the person of an officer if he/she is outside of the institution, transporting a ward to Court or a medical facility. Wards are no longer kept in "cages" following Farrell reforms.

DJJ, according to critics, does not effectively assess its instructional programs, does not measure its graduation rate, and does little to track overall student progress on proficiency tests. CYA does have a ward data system, the Offender Based Information Tracking System (OBITS), which compiles some demographic data, drug test results and length of incarceration.

Teens with mental health problems are made worse, not better, by a system that is failing to rehabilitate kids, according to reports by independent experts.Martin, Mark. [ Youth Authority: 'factory for prisons.' Probes for state report violence, kids kept in cages.] "San Francisco Chronicle", February 3, 2004.]

Among larger states, California consistently has had the highest youth incarceration rate, with more than double the national average youth incarceration rate, which critics decry for contributing to chronic overcrowding, unsafe conditions, poor health services, and numerous related problems, including gang violence.

A July 2008 report by California's Little Hoover Commission recommended that the state "eliminate its juvenile justice operations by 2011" by "turning supervision of all youth offenders over to counties and providing the resources for counties and county consortiums to supervise the most serious youth offenders." [Little Hoover Commission. [ Juvenile Justice Reform: Realigning Responsibilities.] Report #192, July 2008. Accessed 16 Jul 2008.]

ee also

* Involuntary treatment
* Pelican Bay State Prison


External links

* [ Official webpage]

News reports

* [] - 'California Youth Authority' (in-depth six investigative report series), Brandon Bailey and Karen de Sá, "San Jose Mercury News" (November 23, 2004 - January 21, 2005)
* [] - 'Harder Time: California Youth Authority Shifts from Rehab to Brutality', Mark Gladstone and James Rainey, "Los Angeles Times" (January 9, 2000)
* [] - 'Suicide report blasts youth prison: Teen inmate was denied visits, mental health care, education, inspectors find', Andy Furillo, "Sacramento Bee (December 30, 2005)


* [] - 'Aftercare as Afterthought: Re-entry and the California Youth Authority'
* [ (pdf)] - 'California Youth Authority Warehouses: Failing Kids, Families & Public Safety' (white paper recommending closure of CYA and creation of rehabilitation centers), Books Not Bars (2005)
* [] - 'Violence-Prone Youth Authority Still Fails Its Children, Its Taxpayers', Sue Burrell and Jonathan Laba (April 26, 2006)
* [] - 'Locked Up at Age 10, No One Had Time for Me: A young man who was sent to the troubled California Youth Authority corrections system at age 10 tells his story', Pacific News Service (Mar 17, 2004)
* [] - 'Survivor of California Youth Authority Tells His Story', (March 20, 2004)

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