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During the March 22 California Senate Budget Subcommittee on Public Safety, the Ventura Youth Correctional Facility was repeatedly discussed in testimony and public comment. For many of California’s reform-minded criminal justice advocates, the facility is both a paragon of dysfunction and demonstrates a need as well as an opportunity for meaningful change. CJCJ and others have previously condemned the institution for its inability to address inhumane living conditions, and a culture of violence, let alone fulfill the Division of Juvenile Facility’s (DJF) stated charge of rehabilitation. Though the story has previously been told, the general public and policymakers alike deserve a frank, repeated exploration of Ventura Youth Correctional Facility. 

The facility first opened in 1913, and the physical infrastructure is now in a state of continued decay. Yet, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) budgeted $46,313,065 in 2008-09 to maintain an average daily population of 173 in Ventura. In his 2009 Update on Safety and Welfare and Remedial Plan Progress, noted expert Barry Krisberg described all the roofs as leaking and in need of replacement. Lino Silva, a youth currently incarcerated at the facility, waged a petition campaign to call immediate attention to the unsound infrastructure. Nearly 11,000 signatures raised concern over: 

~ Water fountains that do not drain and hold stagnant pools of dirty water. ~ Toilets that are broken, leaking, or frequently overflowing. ~ Filthy showers and bathrooms in our living units. ~ Walls and floors stained with the chemical agents sprayed on us.” 

A January 2012 Report from the Office of the Special Master (OSM) stated, 

There is no question that Ventura is the facility that is most in need of urgent management attention.”

Indeed, rampant violence and intimidation affects both staff and incarcerated youth. Ventura is unique among DJF facilities, with an increase in the reported use of force. Staff assault cases occur disproportionately at the facility (50% for the first six months of 2011). As such, the number of staff with safety concerns is highest at Ventura, markedly jumping from 25% in April 2010 to 32% in October 2010 (other facilities are below 20%). Interviewed youth agree, with 44% expressing fear for their safety in April 2011, an upward trend from 27% in October 2009 and 33% in April 2010

Ventura Youth Correctional Facility lacks the capacity to deliver necessary services and rehabilitation of incarcerated youth. Youth may be held in temporary detection, confined for 23 hours a day. A May 2010 OSM site visit to Ventura found these youth were not receiving adequate counseling and treatment. Said failure affects both males and females. Currently, Ventura houses only 27 female youth, yet the January 2012 OSM report indicates, Ventura suggested that the treatment and conditions of the women there are deteriorating as the management there had to focus on the violence and group disturbances in the male living units.” 

At the March 22 hearing, the aunt of a formerly incarcerated Ventura youth spoke to two implications for these systemic deficiencies. First, the Ventura institution provided inadequate medical treatment for her nephew’s chronic sickness. She worried aloud about the physical impact from this misdiagnosis. Moreover, Ventura failed its commitment to properly educate and rehabilitate this young man. The youth has since left Ventura, but the absence of effective rehabilitative services, during his incarceration, stays with him. 

The Ventura Youth Correctional Facility is unsafe, unsound, and fails to meet the needs for effective rehabilitation of the confined to the state’s three remaining youth correctional facilities. This system’s failure reflects much greater structural deficiencies within the DJF. The significant human and fiscal cost does not better serve the youth, their communities, law enforcement, or public safety. Instead, juvenile justice realignment demonstrates a sound investment in our local counties. By starting with the closure of Ventura, California can refocus necessary attention and resources to existing county-level facilities and innovative community-based practices, which serve the best interests of public safety. 

~Brian GoldsteinCommunications and Policy Intern