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Current information available on the DJF creates concern in regard to the level of rehabilitative care provided in Ventura Youth Correctional Facility. In the Fifteenth Special Master Report, filed July 13, 2010, experts identified that DJF is experiencing several obstacles to reform resulting from the State’s fiscal crisis, including a hiring freeze, lay-off plans, and travel bans. Moreover, the closure of the Heman G. Stark facility in February of this year required DJF to swiftly transfer youths housed there to the remaining facilities. Ventura was the most affected by this closure, receiving almost all of the core population not only from Stark, but also a core unit from SYCRCC to make way for the mental health and SBTP populations to be housed there.

As a consequence, according to DJF population tables, Ventura is currently operating at 301% of its available capacity. This overcrowding results in limited access to programming and highly jeopardizes the safety of the youth housed there. According to DJF facility safety data, despite substantial efforts by DJF to curb violence in Ventura, the facility has experienced a substantial increase in youth violence and staff use of force. Violence within the facilities interferes with treatment programming by creating a hostile environment and disruptions in day-to-day operations.

In the Fifteenth Special Master Report, experts noted that the transfer of staff to accompany Ventura’s new youth population was chaotic. There was not enough custody staff to supervise the enlarged youth population. Educational staff were late arriving, resulting in class cancellations and adversely affecting instruction quality. Moreover, there simply are not enough classrooms to accommodate the large student body. Compounding this problem, the process to hire additional teaching staff is burdened by the hiring freeze. Obtaining an exemption to the freeze takes four months, and could not be done until the transfer was complete. Mental health staffing vacancies were only resolved in March, while educational staffing difficulties remain unresolved.

Thus, the documented lack of adequate program space, staffing deficiencies, bureaucratic obstacles, high levels of violence, and severe overcrowding provides doubt as to the successful implementation of evidence-based programming and rehabilitation in Ventura Youth Correctional Facility.

~Selena Teji, Case Specialist 

Sentencing Service Program