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Perceived improvements to confinement

It's all relative, as the saying goes.  It is true that there have been recent improvements to California's youth correctional facilities, Division of Juvenile Facilities (DJF).  Youth are no longer being fed blender meals and are no longer being educated in cages as they were just a less than a decade ago. However, the recently touted successes include meeting provisionary goals as outlined in the 21st Special Master Report  of the Farrell lawsuit, such as developing implementation plans and training manuals.  Unfortunately, many compliance items are still in the pilot phases and are likely to remain in partial compliance due to the following barriers: 

Staff have yet to be trained; layoffs persist; and the uncertainty of DJF's future has led to a lack staff commitment 

Overarching Treatment Model Remains Unimplemented 
There exists a lack of clarity regarding implementation around the Integrated Behavioral Treatment Model (IBTM) and there is a dire need for elevated staff interest in this rehabilitative program model.  This is partially a result of the loss of key IBTM staff because of DJF closures and budget cuts (more than 50% loss from IBTM project team).  Funding for training staff at the Ventura Youth Correctional Facility (next implementation site) is particularly challenging now.  In the words of Special Master Campbell, "The work of the IBTM project team will likely never truly go away.  Juvenile systems more advanced than DJJ [DJF] are constantly refining their behavior model."

Programmatic Deficiencies
Of the major deficiencies within DJF's program service delivery model is the absence of substance abuse treatment for the youth under their care and custody.  In fact, previous management went as far as to eliminate the substance abuse residential program units. This lack of treatment is shocking as it is one of the dynamic criminogenic risk factors that can be addressed in order to reduce a youthful offender's likelihood to reoffend.  Research  has proven long-term and family-involved substance abuse treatment can significantly reduce substance use and criminal behavior among this population.  

DJF's new use-of-force model has also been misrepresented as a significant improvement.  On paper, DJF has met its initial goal of developing a new "Force Prevention Plan;" however, this plan also relies heavily on the IBTM framework.  It aims to promote a model of positive reinforcement rather than loss of privileges, and over-use of restrictive programming and isolation. 

It is clear that even with plans for evidence-based substance abuse treatment and force prevention, it will be years before youth experience any on-the-ground changes as physical implementation requires comprehensive staffing, training, and true coordination with the IBTM. 

Uncertain Future
Many have begun promote the improvements of DJF, and while there has been progress, this progress has been, in the words of Special Master Campbell, 
"greatly jeopardized by the continued failure to adequately staff the IBTM project team and the failure to develop a clear mission that clarifies that the IBTM is not a treatment program only of concern to youth counselors, psychologists, and educators, but is a way of interacting with youth that must be modeled."

After almost 8 years under consent decree, the state has been slow and inconsistent in its efforts to improve DJF conditions.  It is time for the Governor to implement his proposal to realign all juvenile justice services to the counties.  Promoting local level innovation and community engagement is a much more sound investment for California taxpayers and our youth.

Keywords: DJF/DJJ, Emily Luhrs, Farrell

Posted in Blog, Juvenile Justice

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