SAN FRANCISCO, May 18, 2020 – Governor Gavin Newsom has announced a plan to close the state’s youth correctional system, the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). This announcement, released as part of California’s revised budget, proposes ending new youth admissions to DJJ beginning in January 2021 and ultimately closing all four state-run facilities.
We strongly support the Governor’s plan, which follows decades of advocacy, research, and public education by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ). “In order to reduce the number of people in confinement, we need to reduce the institutions of confinement,” explains CJCJ Executive Director Daniel Macallair. As we take steps in the right direction, we honor the efforts of youth, families, community-based organizations, and advocates who have laid the foundation for this major reform.
The Governor’s announcement comes on the heels of two CJCJ monitoring reports that uncovered appalling conditions in the facilities. Youth at DJJ are subjected to daily threats of violence, brutal treatment by staff, and harmful isolation. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, these systemic shortcomings are exacerbated. DJJ’s poor health care, decaying facilities, and substandard educational programs fail to prepare youth for their return to the community. A youth recently released from DJJ explains: “DJJ prepared me to get out and fall face first. When I was released, I was very anxious and disconcerted. I did not have any idea how to rebuild my life or my relationships.”
For decades, CJCJ has monitored DJJ, inspecting its institutions and unveiling dangerous conditions. We have advocated for youth by testifying in the Legislature and in courtrooms across the state. Throughout its scandalous past, DJJ has proven impervious to reform. CJCJ’s newest report recommends a phased closure of DJJ facilities, which the Governor echoes in his current proposal.
Rather than confine young people in dangerous, prison-like, and remote state facilities, the Governor proposes shifting DJJ’s future population to county custody. This will allow youth to remain closer to their homes and loved ones. CJCJ applauds the Governor’s leadership and strongly urges members of the Legislature to support his plan. We must end DJJ’s 80-year history of abuse and reimagine juvenile justice in California.