‘Rooms Infested With Spiders’: California Youth Urge Changes in Conditions at Juvenile Facilities

The Chronicle of Social Change highlights advocacy by CJCJ and partnering juvenile justice organizations to improve standards in county juvenile facilities. A partnership including the Children’s Defense Fund-California, the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice , The California Endowment, the Pacific Juvenile Defender Center, and the Youth Justice Coalition conducted a survey of 77 justice-involved young people to relay the direct experiences of youth in California's juvenile facilities. 

‘Rooms Infested With Spiders’: California Youth Urge Changes in Conditions at Juvenile Facilities 

By Jeremy Loudenback, The Chronicle of Social Change 


As part of those groups, Martines and others answered questions through an Internet poll about their living conditions, how they were treated and what access they had to programs and education at the juvenile facilities.

Among the findings of the survey:

Many specific comments from the youth and family members surveyed point to inadequate clothing or poor conditions at the facilities.

“The underwear were stained, the shirts had holes, and the sock were always torn,” wrote one respondent who spent several years in juvenile halls and camps in Los Angeles. “The only time we had decent clothing was when government officials were visiting the facilities.”

“Rooms infested with spiders, resulting in spiders crawling on youth,” wrote another.

Still others pointed to difficulty in receiving medical care: “I was denied medication for a skin condition for weeks; I was often denied Tylenol for menstrual cramps until an hour after I requested it for severe pain.”

Other comments on conditions in California juvenile facilities related to interactions with staff members.

Focus group members noted that staff at juvenile facilities regularly administered group punishments and that most were told by Probation Department staff that “you will be back.” None reported any access to drug or alcohol treatment programs during their time at county facilities.

Survey respondents also commented on a lack of addiction treatment or mental health support, and circumscribed educational opportunities at county-run camps and halls.

“If you misbehave or get kicked out of class, you can’t go out; you stay in your cell for the rest of the day,” said one respondent.

Not all the feedback was negative. “I never got disciplined,” one respondent wrote.

Several survey respondents hailed the work of educational programs New Roads and Inside Out Writers.

“My counselor Edwin still keeps in touch with me and visits me from time to time,” wrote one survey respondent about the New Roads program.