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The Department of Juvenile Facilities (DJF) has responded to the Prison Law Office’s allegations stating that Ventura Youth Correctional Facility (VYCF) is in fact providing adequate educational and therapeutic services and proper out-of-cell time to the youth detained in their facilities. The state agency’s explanation of remedies appears to be insufficient in order to create a therapeutic and rehabilitative environment for youth in their care and custody. This is the latest action from the eight-year-and-counting lawsuit, brought on by the Prison Law Office on behalf of Margaret Farrell, to raise DJF’s standards to a base level of humane treatment. 

Major allegations against DJF/VYCF:

¢ 4078 minutes out-of-cell time per day for youth on restrictive programs (RP), Behavior Treatment Programs (BTP) and Temporary Detention (TD)”¢ 62% teacher vacancy rate “¢ 12% class cancellation rate”¢ closets, showers, store rooms, and kitchen and dining spaces” used as classrooms for youth on RPs. In some cases, youth are denied schooling due to lack of space. 

How has DJF responded? 

DJF claims that they have improved the standards of care and were not, as the Prison Law Office accuses, exercising willful disobedience” in complying with court ordered remedial plans. DJF explains many of the issues were a result of certain staff erroneously misunderstanding policies for youth on RP, BTP, and TD. This misunderstanding denied several youth in these programs the minimum requirement of 3 hours out-of-cell time per day. To ensure youth are not locked up 23 to 24 hours per day, DJF sent out instructional memos to all staff, scheduling a training on BTPs, and made sure staff record all hours youth spend out of their rooms. According to DJF, errors exist because VYCF staff failed to record unstructured activities such as watching television;” however, this still does not explain the lack of programmed out-of-cell time mandated to youth. 

DJF’s explanation for the limited access to education highlights their inability to provide adequate services for youth under their care. The dayroom and dining areas are an interim solution until modular units arrive,” for classrooms and they make no mention of their previously cited use of closets, showers, or store rooms.” Furthermore, while all high school youth are enrolled, they admit, the absentee-rate of youthful offenders is a different issue.” 

While it is crucial all staff understand and follow the policies and procedures, particularly in handling youth with identified behavior issues, it seems unlikely that sending out memos and recording hours youth spend watching T.V. will be the necessary remedy to alter the entrenched punitive and restrictive culture pervasive throughout DJF. Drastic changes are needed to meet constitutional standards for treatment; and, unfortunately the case of Ventura further exemplifies DJF’s slow response in dealing with long-standing systematic problems. To become fully informed, attend upcoming Farrell hearing at the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse in downtown Oakland, this coming Thursday, July 7th at 1:30.

~Emily LuhrsSentencing Service Program Case Specialist