Pervasive Violence and Isolation at California’s Division of Juvenile Justice Endanger Youth

Division of Juvenile Justice Endanger Youth

A new report from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice provides a comprehensive review of conditions at the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ)—California’s state-run youth correctional system—and finds a return to its historically grievous conditions that isolate and traumatize youth.

Violence and use-of-force rates have increased in nearly all DJJ facilities in recent years. Staff abet violence, reinforce racial and ethnic conflicts, and legitimize institutional gangs.

The report finds:

  • Youth live in a climate of fear: Violence and use-of-force rates have increased in nearly all DJJ facilities in recent years. Staff abet violence, reinforce racial and ethnic conflicts, and legitimize institutional gangs.
  • Youths’ health suffers due to trauma and violence: A recent spike in attempted suicides and high rates of youth injuries raise concerns for youths’ safety in DJJ facilities
  • Education and programs are rendered less effective by violence and prison-like setting: DJJ’s schools and programs fail to provide meaningful rehabilitative opportunities and leave youth subject to substantial time in locked cells.
  • DJJ facilities are outdated and costly: DJJ’s aging and poorly-maintained facilities were built according to an archaic institutional design that is out of step with juvenile justice standards.
  • Remote, restrictive facilities keep families apart: Youth confined at DJJ are unable to maintain close bonds with family and community members due to restrictive policies and far distances from home.
  • DJJ fails to prepare youth for their release: Youth released from DJJ experience high rates of recidivism and low levels of employment or education after release as they struggle to adjust to life outside of a traumatic institution.

This report includes accounts of youth who have experienced life at DJJ directly. Their insights contribute to the report’s findings, alongside information from interviews with family members and facility staff, research, and recent tours of DJJ correctional facilities. For quotes from youth, staff, families, and the report authors, click here.

  • “Do you know how weird it was to be able open my own door when I got home? Imagine going for 5 years being told what to do —when to wake up, when to do anything—to stepping out into society. It was overwhelming, you don’t know what to do with that. I’ve been secluded in violence, told what to do, been oppressed, scared for my life, just trying to get through the program and now I’m back in society and having this overwhelming feeling of isolation.” –Former DJJ youth
  • “When I came out, I was different. I couldn’t have conversations with people, even with my family. I felt cut off because they isolate you.” –Former DJJ youth
  • “On April 3, 2017, a lieutenant allegedly grabbed a ward’s arm and forced the ward to the ground, breaking the ward’s wrist.” –Sustained allegation, California Office of the Inspector General

DJJ’s history is marked by scandals involving widespread abuse and neglect in its facilities. Three years ago this month, DJJ was released from a 12-year conditions lawsuit, ultimately ending court monitoring under assurances by the state that the institution was implementing rehabilitative reforms. As California continues to place hundreds of youth from across the state in DJJ’s care, CJCJ’s new report provides a comprehensive review of life in its facilities.

Contact: For more information about this topic or to schedule an interview, please contact CJCJ Communications at (415) 621-5661 x. 103 or [email protected]. Additionally, requests for facility photos or contact with report interviewees are welcome.

Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice