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Ventura Youth Correctional Facility in Camarillo is one of three remaining state operated facilities for California’s high-needs justice-involved youth. The facilities are under court mandate to improve their conditions of care, previously documented as inhumane and abusive. Today, Ventura YCF still struggles to meet those mandates, in part due to its fragmented and ever changing leadership.

CJCJ has reported on the hostile conditions in Ventura, most recently in April 2012. The facility houses a population with high rehabilitative needs in over 50 year-old buildings that are literally crumbling around them. Now, the facility faces a systemic challenge – a lack of commitment at the top level.

Since 2011, Ventura Youth Correctional Facility has cycled through three superintendents including a 10-month period, when no superintendent was appointed and the facility operated without leadership. In July this year, an abrupt change in leadership was again announced, nine months after the last Superintendent appointment.

More specifically, in June 2011, Superintendent David Finley resigned following allegations of improper use of solitary confinement at the facility. From July 2011 to April 2012, the facility then operated through instruction from the central office in Sacramento, until an interim superintendent could be found. Victor Amalger acted as an interim superintendent from April 2012 to October 2012, when Governor Brown officially appointed him to the office. However, now Amalger has been replaced by Cynthia Brown. According to reports, there is no explanation for this sudden change, beyond a general need for a change in management.”

DJF spokesperson Bill Sessa describes the attitude of the state towards leadership at its youth correctional facilities,

People in senior management positions accept the position knowing it can be changed at any time”

High turnover in Ventura’s key leadership position is destructive in a number of ways. It increase the costs associated with hiring and training staff, but more importantly, it fundamentally affects morale and disrupts reform efforts.

Throughout juvenile justice reform movements, the most successful efforts have risen out of the strong and persistent vision of key reformers. Without committed leadership, reform tends to flounder, staff and youth become disillusioned, and rehabilitative goals and outcomes suffer. DJF’s lax attitude towards creating consistency in their management structure casts doubt upon its ability to truly reform.