California’s state youth correctional system, the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), is violent, isolated, and lacks accountability. Fights and riots are a part of daily life and create a culture of fear. DJJ’s violent conditions are concealed by an absence of state oversight and the facilities’ long distances from youths’ families and communities. For decades, DJJ, and the agencies that preceded it, cycled through numerous controversies. Despite frequent attempts at reform, the state system has continued to subject generations of California youth to inhumane conditions and lasting trauma. In early 2016, DJJ was released from a 12-year lawsuit that had resulted from the discovery of abuse and grievous conditions in the facilities. Despite assurances that the state was entering a new era of rehabilitative treatment, in the three years since court monitoring ended, DJJ has returned to its historical state of poor conditions, a punitive staff culture, and inescapable violence. The state system has reached a crossroads. With more than 1,000 authorized staff and four aging facilities, all serving a youth population of just over 600, DJJ’s cost per youth now exceeds $300,000 per year (CDCR, 2018; DOF, 2018; DOF, 2018a). In total, California spends $200 million each year to preserve an antiquated system that is operating at less than 40 percent of its capacity (CDCR, 2017; 2017a; 2017b; 2017c; 2018; DOF, 2018a). Californians must reckon with spending levels that are not supported by outcomes while considering DJJ’s devastating effects on youth health and well-being. No amount of reform can reverse the failures of a correctional model predicated on prison-like facilities that are isolated from communities. Yet with a record-low youth population and claims by DJJ that they have corrected past harms, the public has turned its attention away from the troubled state institutions. This report aims to examine life in DJJ, from staffing to safety to reentry. Too often, the story of youth confinement is told by those who operate institutions. We have highlighted the experiences of young people who know firsthand the challenges of navigating the system and are grappling with everyday life on the outside (See Methods section). Their insight forms the basis of our conclusions, namely that DJJ leaves youth traumatized, disconnected, and poorly prepared for life after release. Today, as it has for more than 100 years, the state system is failing youth, their families, and their communities, and is neglecting its most basic obligation: to rehabilitate young people and keep them safe.
Maureen Washburn and Renee Menart | Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice | 2019
América del Norte