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Report Update: COVID-19 Cases Surging in CA Youth Prisons

SAN FRANCISCO – December 15, 2020 – Last month, CJCJ released a fact sheet finding that California’s state youth correctional system, the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), has failed to respond sufficiently to the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on youths’ safety.

Within days of the fact sheet's release, DJJ reported that another youth contracted COVID-19 — the first new case in months. DJJ’s first outbreak was a warning. Unless the state acted immediately to protect youth, staff, and their families, it was only a matter of time before another outbreak occurred. 

As of December 14th, 119 youth have tested positive, including nearly 50 new cases in just the last few weeks. With a population of less than 800, this means that about 15% of youth at DJJ are known to have contracted the dangerous virus. California's leaders must substantially improve DJJ’s COVID-19 response to meet youths’ basic physical, mental, social-emotional, and educational needs.

Our recent fact sheet describes DJJ's lacking safety measures, isolation of youth, cuts to education, continued intake, and more. 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 continues to withhold vital information on the COVID-19 crisis while putting the physical and mental well-being of youth at risk.

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 that during the summer outbreak:

  • 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 a second major COVID-19 outbreak continues to mount, California must act now. DJJ must substantially reduce its population and improve its response to youths’ basic physical, mental, and social-emotional needs.

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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