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Report: A Blueprint for Reform: Moving Beyond California’s Failed Youth Correctional System

SAN FRANCISCO – April 14, 2020 – A new CJCJ report looks at the dangers of life for youth in California’s Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) facilities. The COVID-19 pandemic has ignited discussions on public health and the detrimental impacts of incarceration. However, leaders have largely overlooked youth who are housed in overcrowded, decaying, and unsanitary state-run institutions where they lack access to quality health care.

The report finds:

  • DJJ maintains dangerously large youth populations in unsanitary facilities, escalating the risk of infectious disease. DJJ’s three correctional facilities violate modern standards that cap facility populations at 150 youth (see above figure). Unsanitary common areas and the use of a long-debunked open dormitory layout in two DJJ facilities make these institutional environments ripe for virus transmission.
  • Inadequate access to health care places youth at risk: Youth at DJJ are three times more likely to be referred for outside medical treatment than those in local juvenile facilities. Youth who remain in DJJ’s own medical system experience long wait times, misdiagnosis, and frequent dismissal of serious symptoms.
  • Isolation and long distances from home harm youth: Half of youth at DJJ are over 100 miles from their home communities, with limited opportunities to connect with loved ones. Youth are isolated an average of 13 hours alone in their room each day, according to data from October 2018 through September 2019.
  • Youth experience frequent violence at DJJ: Approximately 31 youth for every hundred at DJJ experienced a violent incident, including sexual assaults and beatings, each month from October 2018 to September 2019.
  • Suicidal incidents among youth at DJJ have doubled since 2015: DJJ reported 421 instances of suicidality from September 2018 through August 2019, compared to 213 instances at the end of the Farrell lawsuit from September 2015 through August 2016.
  • California continues to invest heavily in its failing youth correctional system: Despite DJJ’s failures, and youth populations at less than half of its capacity, the agency’s budget is slated to soar by $100 million over the next two years, costing Californians $290 million total or a record-setting $336,000 per youth annually.
  • Most youth that are sent to DJJ return to the justice system: DJJ’s failing approach to rehabilitation results in 76 percent of youth being rearrested, 50 percent reconvicted of a new offense, and 29 percent returned to DJJ or a state prison within three years of release.
These critical flaws in the state’s outdated juvenile justice system have fueled calls for reform in decades past, and now require urgent action during this pandemic. As advocates across the nation are calling for the release of youth from lock-ups in light of the risks presented by COVID-19, CJCJ expands on immediate calls to action by outlining strategies for lasting reform. This includes recommendations to reduce DJJ’s population, establish independent monitoring, invest in community-based programs, and ultimately close California’s dangerous DJJ facilities.

Contact: For more information about this topic or to schedule an interview, please contact CJCJ Communications at (415) 6215661 x. 103 or cjcjmedia@​cjcj.​org.