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DJF: No special treatment for youth with special needs

The 19th report of the Special Master, in the ongoing Farrell v. Cate lawsuit to reform California's Division of Juvenile Facilities (DJF) was released early September.  A major theme I discovered was the lack of DJF's ability to provide for those individuals with special needs, particularly in the areas of special education, mental health, and wards with physical and mental disabilities.   While these populations may be more challenging to serve than the general population, the presence of youth in California's juvenile justice system with co-occurring disorders and needs is significant and must not be overlooked.   


For example, there exists an overrepresentation of youth with disabilities on restrictive programs.  Restrictive programs are meant to be reserved for youth with serious behavior issues that must be separated from the general population.  In all facilities, youth with disabilities comprise 30.4% of the population.  

"Headquarters and facility audits showed that youth with disabilities still comprise a higher percentage [34.1%] of those placed in restrictive programs than others ... with no explanations of what efforts were made to identify root causes of reasons for [those] placements."

This discrepancy in treatment becomes even more disturbing when analyzing the use-of-force incident reports.  It highlights that 49% of all incidents involving chemical restraints, such as pepper spray, were directed towards a youth or group of youth with a mental health designation.  It is recommended that the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) team determine whether the youth's poor behavior was related to their disability.  

Access to education becomes even more problematic for this population because wards in restrictive programs, specifically Temporary Detention (TD) and Temporary Intervention Programs (TIP) have not been consistently receiving their mandated 240 minutes of daily educational programming.  It states that no youth must go without educational programming for more than 72 consecutive hours and 10 days total, but at the current rate, DJF is likely to reach that 10 day limit.  In addition, special education assessments at Johanna Boss High School at the O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility failed to meet CDOE (California Department of Education) and IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) standards.

                       

The Special Master acknowledges the progress of "achieving substantial compliance with most education audit items; however, additional requirements must be met if DJJ is to succeed in providing a full continuum of services to youth with special needs."  While improving the staff vacancy rate, (which is slowly making progress) may help alleviate some of these issues; it seems a better understanding of this population's needs would help prevent the overrepresentation of this population in special behavioral units.  One approach to this situation is to train a higher percentage of staff with ADA guidelines.  Currently, approximately 60% have been trained in ADA guidelines, which the Special Master states in insufficient.  

Only four DJF facilities remain with populations hovering below capacity between 186 to 317 youth, except for one facility (N.A. Chaderjian) that is overcrowded at 345 youth.  The total DJF population has shrunk each month, now at 1,162, but with the Southern Youth Reception Center and Clinic scheduled to close its doors before the end of the year, staff need to be prepared to deal with an influx of youth, and not continue to ignore those with special needs. 

Keywords: abuse, DJF/DJJ, Emily Luhrs, Farrell, mental health

Posted in Blog, Juvenile Justice

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