SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. November 9, 2021 – A report released today by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) investigates California’s state-run youth correctional system, the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). Following decades of violence and abuse, DJJ’s prison-like institutions will officially close in June 2023 through juvenile justice realignment.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the daily challenges youth face including long periods of isolation, a lack of programming, and unhealthy facility conditions. A youth formerly confined at DJJ explained, “When COVID hit, you sit on the hall all day and don’t leave. You do that for days, months, and the months turn into years.” DJJ, and California’s local juvenile justice systems, operate under limited oversight.
This publication continues CJCJ’s independent monitoring of DJJ facilities during a critical transition period. Amid California’s historic reform, we must remain vigilant to protect the hundreds of youth still in state custody while ensuring DJJ’s dangers are not replicated at the county level.
Average hours in a cell per day, all units and BTP, July 2017-June 2021
The report finds:
- Youth spend more than half of each day in their cells with an average of 14.38 hours cell-time per day, from July 2020 – June 2021.
- Hundreds of suicidality incidents at DJJ signal mental health distress among youth. With a population averaging approximately 700 youth, DJJ reported 467 total instances of suicide risk from July 2020 to June 2021.
- Youth at DJJ are subject to a culture of violence, with about 19 youth out of every 100 involved in or affected by a violent incident each month from July 2020 to June 2021.
- Staff’s frequent use of force traumatizes youth and erodes staff-youth relationships. DJJ’s use of force incidents were investigated at a rate nearly 10 times higher than the rate for California’s adult prisons.
- Staff transitions in anticipation of DJJ closure may impact youths’ safety. Nearly one-quarter (22.52 percent) of DJJ’s budgeted staff positions were vacant in June 2021 compared to 16.88 percent in June 2020.
- Abysmal reentry outcomes underline DJJ’s failure to rehabilitate youth. Within three years of release, over three-quarters of youth returning from DJJ were rearrested, half were convicted for a new offense, and nearly 30 percent returned to state custody.