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The Chronicle of Social Change highlights advocacy by CJCJ and partnering juvenile justice organizations to improve standards in county juvenile facilities. A partnership including the Children’s Defense Fund-California, the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice , The California Endowment, the Pacific Juvenile Defender Center, and the Youth Justice Coalition conducted a survey of 77 justice-involved young people to relay the direct experiences of youth in California’s juvenile facilities. 

Rooms Infested With Spiders’: California Youth Urge Changes in Conditions at Juvenile Facilities

By Jeremy Loudenback, The Chronicle of Social Change 


As part of those groups, Martines and others answered questions through an Internet poll about their living conditions, how they were treated and what access they had to programs and education at the juvenile facilities.

Among the findings of the survey:

  • Nearly 67 percent of those surveyed said that staff members used pepper spray or other weapons against them or young people in county youth facilities.
  • Three-quarters of survey respondents said that they did not receive assistance with transitioning out of the county’s juvenile detention facilities.
  • Nearly all, or about 90 percent of survey respondents, said that there was not a fair grievance process that included follow-up on complaints.
  • 61 percent of respondents indicated that they did not receive enough healthy, good-quality food to eat while in county youth facilities.
  • About 68 percent of those surveyed reported that they did not feel they were learning, and a majority were kicked out or not allowed to go to school at some point.

Many specific comments from the youth and family members surveyed point to inadequate clothing or poor conditions at the facilities.

The underwear were stained, the shirts had holes, and the sock were always torn,” wrote one respondent who spent several years in juvenile halls and camps in Los Angeles. The only time we had decent clothing was when government officials were visiting the facilities.”

Rooms infested with spiders, resulting in spiders crawling on youth,” wrote another.

Still others pointed to difficulty in receiving medical care: I was denied medication for a skin condition for weeks; I was often denied Tylenol for menstrual cramps until an hour after I requested it for severe pain.”

Other comments on conditions in California juvenile facilities related to interactions with staff members.

Focus group members noted that staff at juvenile facilities regularly administered group punishments and that most were told by Probation Department staff that you will be back.” None reported any access to drug or alcohol treatment programs during their time at county facilities.

Survey respondents also commented on a lack of addiction treatment or mental health support, and circumscribed educational opportunities at county-run camps and halls.

If you misbehave or get kicked out of class, you can’t go out; you stay in your cell for the rest of the day,” said one respondent.

Not all the feedback was negative. I never got disciplined,” one respondent wrote.

Several survey respondents hailed the work of educational programs New Roads and Inside Out Writers.

My counselor Edwin still keeps in touch with me and visits me from time to time,” wrote one survey respondent about the New Roads program.