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Recently, the Department of Juvenile Facilities (formerly known as the California Youth Authority) claimed to be in 85% compliance with the consent decree under the Farrell litigation. This percentage cultivates a skewed perception of the state youth correctional facility’s progress towards reforming into a rehabilitative environment. In April 2010, CJCJ’s Executive Director Daniel Macallair highlighted this issue in the California Progress Report. As DJF touts its progress it is important to remember its past.

Since the opening of its first facility 118 years ago, California’s youth correctional institutions have been the subject of frequent and harsh criticism. These criticisms increased over the past 10 years as conditions in the state’s youth correctional facilities worsened. Just four years ago, experts described the state correctional system as one that is broken almost everywhere you look.”

This past week a jury decided that the civil rights of four male wards were violated during their incarceration from 1999 to 2004 at Heman G. Stark Youth Correctional Facility. The claims of abuse included serious physical and sexual abuse at the hands of facility staff. This is just one of the many cases that claim allegations of egregious behavior by correctional staff. We also must not underestimate the injustices that are undocumented due to fear of retaliation by staff on wards.

Unfortunately, it is cases like these that serve as necessary reminders of the state’s historic failure to employ professional management practices that would minimize or eliminate the abuses cited in cases such as Farrell v. Cate. Without continued scrutiny and analysis of the conditions and services provided by the state youth correctional system, it will be possible that the previous bureaucratic routines that evolved in the historic punitive system will fall back into place and the civil rights of our state’s youth will continue to be jeopardized.