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New Report: DJJ Fails to Protect Youth Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

SAN FRANCISCO – November 12, 2020 – A new fact sheet by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) finds that California’s state youth correctional system, the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), is failing to respond sufficiently to the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on youths’ safety.

In the summer of 2020, the virus spread rapidly through DJJ’s three large correctional facilities – growing from one positive case to over 60 in about seven weeks. DJJ and the prison system that oversees it, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), have made grave mistakes in responding to the pandemic. To date, 91 deaths and over 20,000 COVID-19 cases have occurred inside CDCR institutions. This fact sheet warns of ongoing issues at DJJ, including isolation, inconsistent COVID-19 precautions, and detrimental cuts to programming that affect all youth inside DJJ facilities.

CJCJ has tracked COVID-19 at DJJ since the pandemic’s start and conducted extensive research on the summer outbreak. The authors developed their findings through information gathering, data analysis, and meetings with DJJ administrators, attorneys, families, and staff.

Reported youth COVID-19 cases in California’s Division of Juvenile Justice, Summer 2020

Note: Some intermediate data points may be missing as data needed to be retrieved and recorded manually from DJJ’s website on a daily basis.

The fact sheet finds:

  • DJJ slowly and inconsistently adopted COVID-19 testing and screening measures. This endangered the health of youth and staff. By July 22, over a month after the first youth tested positive for COVID-19, DJJ had tested only about 300 out of 768 total youth.

  • Youth placed under quarantine spent long hours in stiflingly hot cells. DJJ staff commonly isolate youth, who spent more than half of each day confined in single cells even before the COVID-19 outbreak.

  • Youth inside DJJ cannot maintain safe physical distancing. Due to DJJ’s large prison-like structures, youth must spend most of the day in close proximity to others. The risk of spread is intensified in open dormitory living units where youth share a bathroom and sleep in a common space.

  • DJJ halted or scaled back many rehabilitative and educational programs due to COVID-19. Cuts to education are particularly alarming given that last year, DJJ’s high schools had only 8 percent of students score proficient in Language Arts and zero score proficient in Mathematics.

COVID-19 is a life-threatening illness that has killed hundreds of young people across the United States and impacted the health of countless more. As the risk of another large-scale COVID-19 outbreak continues to mount, DJJ has resumed admitting youth from across the state, in defiance of best practices.

California must substantially improve DJJ’s COVID-19 response to meet youths’ basic physical, mental, social-emotional, and educational needs. DJJ’s first outbreak is not only a snapshot of past failure, but a warning that the state must act now to protect youth, staff, and their families.

Read CA’s Division of Juvenile Justice Fails to Protect Youth Amid COVID-19 >>

Contact: For more information about this topic or to schedule an interview, please contact CJCJ Communications at (415) 621-5661 x. 103 or cjcjmedia@cjcj.org.

Keywords: COVID-19, Division of Juvenile Justice

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