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DJF's reform efforts, sounding like a broken record

The purpose of the juvenilejustice system is to rehabilitate youth, a concept California's Division of Juvenile Facilities (DJF) continues to struggle with. Progress in reform efforts through the Farrell lawsuit, now entering its second decade, have begun to sound like a broken record.  

In October 2012, the most recent Report of the Special Master released to the court commends DJF on certain improvements; however, areas crucial to the reform process have yet to meet compliance.  Key areas to address in order for DJF to meet court compliance, includes facility infrastructure, mental health treatment, and scheduled programming.

"The outmoded and deteriorating DJJ facilities continue to be a problem that impedes reform...Facility cleanliness remains poor and furniture and recreational supplies are inadequate."
- Safety and Welfare Expert to the Farrell lawsuit, Barry Krisberg

This poor facility quality impedes treatment efforts and severely depreciates the quality of life for both youth and staff in the facilities.  The exorbitant costs of infrastructure improvements that would be necessary to meet court compliance prevent DJF of ever meeting compliance in this area, particularly in this fiscal climate.  

Youth with mental health needs at DJF continue to experience less than adequate care.  The Special Master indicated, "the current staffing model is consistent with an institutional model (command and control), not a treatment model."  Administering psychotropic medications has also been problematic as youth do not always receive their medication on-time and some youth do not even know why their medication was prescribed.  Historically, DJF has dealt poorly with this vulnerable population placing them in isolation and overusing pepper spray in attempts to control disruptive behavior. Because these youth are more likely to present behavioral difficulties than youth without mental health issues, they require a higher amount of staff interaction and supervision that can ensure their individualized treatment needs are met.  

Another population of youth with unmet treatment needs are those in the Sexual Behavior Treatment Program (SBTP).  Youth are specifically placed in these units because of their sexually acting-out behaviors; however, the minimum mandatory treatment time of 30 minutes per week is not being met. While the Special Master believes DJF could soon reach compliance in the SBTP area, essential components remain unresolved.  Without implementation and fidelity to the model, the approved policies and curriculum that now exist are futile. 

Moreover, youth are sent to DJF because of the seriousness of their offenses.  One reason many of these youth were able to resort to illegal activity was the result of their unsupervised and unstructured lifestyles at home. Therefore, while serving time, they should be engaged in structured educational and therapeutic activities, aimed at rehabilitation.  Instead, youth reported that during time reserved for programming they sit idly, often watching TV, allowing increased opportunities for disruptive activity. 

"Youth indicated if they were doing something other than just sitting together in the dayroom thinking about who will jump first, there would be fewer [gang] conflicts."

As long as California's state youth correctional system, built on an outdated model of control and punishment exists, the ultimate goal of reforming DJF to a constitutionally sound standard of care seems unlikely.   Research points not only to the ineffectiveness of punitive--based juvenile justice systems, but to the effectiveness of community-based programs focused on rehabilitation for young offenders. Programs utilizing "therapeutic counseling, skill-building, and case management approaches" demonstrate the most successful outcomes, in decreased recidivism rates.  Rather than continuing to commit small numbers of youth to DJF (managing less than 900youth as of October 2012), a wiser use of taxpayer dollars is for California to continue to expand its investment in smaller community-based supervision where it is easier to manage these higher-needs, higher-risk youth.  

Keywords: DJF/DJJ, Emily Luhrs, Farrell

Posted in Blog, Correctional Institutions

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