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CJCJ stands behind 13 California State Assemblymembers and Senators in urging Governor Newsom to take swift action on the COVID-19 crisis at the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), the state’s youth correctional system. On December 23rd, a coalition of legislators led by Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager, submitted a letter calling for meaningful reductions in DJJ’s population, improved data transparency, strengthened enforcement of staff face-covering requirements, and an indefinite halt to youth intake.

At the time the letter was submitted, nearly one in six youth had tested positive for COVID-19 in the facilities. DJJ has experienced two major outbreaks thus far– one during the summer and another that is still underway. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, CJCJ has warned that DJJ is unprepared for a major public health crisis. A recent fact sheet examined the system’s response to its first outbreak and found that the arrival of COVID-19 exacerbated long-standing failures in the areas of healthcare, mental health, education, programming, and more. Our investigation shows the urgent need for DJJ to move youth out of cramped quarters and offer opportunities for release.

In response to these findings, members of the California Legislature wrote, DJJ’s mishandling of its summertime crisis is a warning to the state as we grapple with the most dangerous stage of the pandemic. State leaders must heed these lessons to ensure that youth are kept safe – both from the deadly virus and the devastating effects of isolation.”

Specifically, the legislators’ letter recommends that DJJ

  • Report COVID-19 data by facility, include testing numbers and a timeline of positive and negative results dating to March;
  • Provide all youth and staff with adequate PPE and strictly enforce staff mask-wearing requirements;
  • Make COVID-19 testing available to all youth in DJJ facilities upon request;
  • Indefinitely halt intake until the virus risk subsides both inside and outside of the facilities;
  • Meaningfully reduce population density by 1) cooperating with defense attorneys on 779 recall petitions and 2) considering early release for youth who are within six months of their parole date and/​or youth who are medically vulnerable.

This coalition of legislators has taken a bold stand in support of California’s vulnerable youth. They recognize that California is falling short of its basic responsibility to protect youth in its care. Instead, DJJ has allowed COVID-19 to spread rapidly and continues to subject youth to harmful conditions, such as isolation. CJCJ joins Assemblymember Kamlager and her colleagues in the Assembly and Senate in calling for urgent action. Governor Newsom and DJJ must improve transparency within the system, implement commonsense public health measures, and, above all, move youth out of harm’s way.