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DJF culture shift absent as lawsuit continues

As of January 2012, three of California's Division of Juvenile Facilities (DJF) remain, O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility (OHCYCF), N.A. Chaderjian (NACYCF) in Stockton, CA and Ventura Youth Correctional Facility (VYCF) in Ventura, California.  The Southern Reception Center closed down at the end of the 2011, transferring the remaining youth and 77 staff to VYCF, now the only DJF facility in southern California.  Already plagued with abuses and strained past capacity, VYCF continues to stand-out in Special Master Campbell's, 20th report.  This is the most recent update covering DJF's compliance in the ongoing Farrell Lawsuit, now in its ninth year.  In addition, the Special Master reiterated the importance of maintaining staff fidelity to new behavior treatment models if the reforms are to take hold. 

One major theme is the vast discrepancies between OHCYCF and NACYCF with VYCF, particularly in terms of placement of youth in restrictive housing programs, use-of-force, and out-of-cell time.  Ventura was under particular scrutiny in the 18th and 19th Special Master Reports for its over-reliance on restrictive housing, specifically, placing difficult to manage youth in Temporary Detention and Special Management Programs, where access to appropriate educational, recreational, and therapeutic programming is very restrictive. 

The 20th Special Master Report indicates this practice has continued.  For instance, youth in restricted housing at VYCF receive educational services only 50% of the time. OHCYCF and NACYCF have replaced the practice of Temporary Detention with new Treatment Intervention Programs.  Although OHCYCF has the highest rates of youth-on-youth violence of any facility, it has demonstrated its ability to place difficult populations in treatment programs rather than continue the practice of Temporary Detention.  VYCF's rates of use-of-force when responding to youth-on-youth violence situations remain substantially higher (126%) than OHCYCF (38%) and NACYCF (87%).  "The Special Master urges the parties to finalize agreement on the use-of-force process so Defendant [DJF] can move forward with all of the elements of the use-of-force plan. ...once this plan is put fully into effect, the current problems with over-reliance on confinement of youth will be reduced."

Out-of-cell time was also of major concern in previous Special Master Reports, particularly at VYCF.  While youth in restricted housing now appear to be receiving the mandated 3 hours out-of-room time (and rarely time beyond the minimum requirement); according to youth interviews at VYCF and NACYCF, this time is largely filled with "unstructured activities at the dayroom or at the exercise yard with little or no staff interaction."

Despite finally reaching compliance in many areas, checking items off the audit list will still not make DJF a rehabilitative environment.  Unfortunately, there is no compliance item to measure staff culture and fidelity to new program models. This is particularly the case with the Integrated Behavior Treatment Model (IBTM), the over-arching program philosophy intended to shift the emphasis from punitive responses to misbehavior and violence towards a model of positive reinforcement.  "The IBTM is central to virtually every significant issue that is not in compliance in the Farrell case. Defendant continues to make good progress in meeting the mandates of the lawsuit and continues to struggle in changing the culture of DJJ from one of "institution management" to behavior management. Without this cultural change, Defendant cannot be relieved of judicial oversight."

According to Special Master Campbell, a cultural shift appears to be the largest obstacle towards true reform. "The Special Master congratulates Defendant for gains made in monitoring and compliance efforts. To move past compliance to the cultural change required by the court, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation must commit the resources needed to train and coach staff." 

Even though its population is down to approximately 1000 youth, from 10,000 youth ten years ago, DJF still struggles to meet the minimum requirements for humane treatment of youth while draining state tax dollars.  This manageable population size should serve alert counties it is time to assume responsibility for their high-risk offenders, who are much more likely to rehabilitate if supervised and treated locally.

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

Posted in Blog, Juvenile Justice

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