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Flawed programming for DJF youth needing sexual behavior treatment

The most recent evidence of California's Division of Juvenile Facilities' (DJF) continued failure is documented in a report highlighting the State's inability to provide sufficient programming to youth in need of sexual behavior treatment (SBTP).  Audits of the three facilities with SBTP programs occurred September 2010 through February 2011.  As a result, SBTP expert, Barbara Schwartz, found serious deficiencies in core aspects of the program, despite improvement in many compliance items since the previous audit. 


The major programmatic shortcomings affect the delivery of treatment youth receive while in custody.  Mandated treatment hours are not being met, due to scheduling conflicts, staff shortages, and mismatched job duties.  Many youth, particularly those with mental health needs, do not receive individualized therapy sessions -- a key component of the program.  When these youth do receive individualized therapy, their sessions do not often meet basic SBTP guidelines.  For example, one-on-one therapy sessions are not held privately at N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility, which is of exceptional concern for this already stigmatized population. 


At the Southern Youth Reception Center and Clinic (SYRCC), MSW students treat youth full-time rather than certified ATSA (Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers) therapists who have experience working with sex offenders.  Currently, DJF's policies do not recognize these experienced ATSA therapists as "capable" of administering treatment because they are not licensed social workers or students of social work.   In February, a member of the treatment staff indicated to Schwartz that "there is no way" they could provide treatment to all youth if they were operating at capacity.  The number of youth, as of March 31, is near full capacity. 


An added area of distress, affecting all youth at DJF is the recent transfer of probation services from the State to the county level.  The continuity of care youth receive from detention through re-entry has broken because DJF no longer oversees youth parole services.  Staff at the SYRCC expressed great concern with their lack of involvement in pre-release planning and inability to communicate with parole officers, noting "this change has created a dangerous situation in which the crucial transition phase [for youth exiting DJF] has been seriously compromised."  Re-entry is a necessary component for all youth, especially for this high-need population.  This challenge felt by DJF staff demonstrates the need for the State to eliminate a dual-system of care. 


With the State struggling to serve the dwindling DJF population (currently 1,215 youth) and demonstrating slow progress on key reform efforts since the start of the Farrell litigation in 2003, serving youth at the county level from commitment to parole is in the best interest for the State, the youth, and public safety.  Governor Brown's realignment proposal provides fiscal resources for the counties which will increase the opportunities for youth to receive needed specialized treatment at the local level.


Be on the lookout at the Prison Law Office's website for Farrell Litigation progress in the 18th Special Master Report to come out later in June.


~Emily Luhrs
Sentencing Service Program Case Specialist

Keywords: DJF/DJJ, Emily Luhrs, Farrell

Posted in Blog, Juvenile Justice, Correctional Institutions

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