SACRAMENTO – Over the last three years the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) has successfully completed 82 percent of approximately 8,052 policy and program changes required by a court settlement to improve the rehabilitation of youthful offenders. These reforms have resulted in a dramatic decrease in violence and an increase in academic achievement among DJJ youth.
DJJ’s reform efforts are outlined in an annual progress report filed today with the Alameda Superior Court, which oversees the progress on six remedial plans that encompass Safety & Welfare, Mental Health, Education, Health Care, Sexual Behavior Treatment, and the Wards with Disabilities Program and charts progress through the first quarter of 2010.
These plans are a result of a settlement reached in the Farrell v. Cate lawsuit. Compliance ratings, based on audits by court-appointed, independent subject experts in each of these areas, reflect a 23 percent jump in compliance over the last 12 months and the biggest single year improvement in DJJ’s performance since the overhaul of the juvenile justice system began in 2005.
“Over the last four years, we have instituted policies for staff that emphasize intervention and counseling over the use of force, reinforced our education curriculum and created programs to encourage more family participation with out youth,” noted Bernard Warner, Chief Deputy Secretary for Juvenile Justice. “Because of reforms advancing evidence-based practices, our youth are spending more time in classrooms and are receiving better treatment and counseling services than ever before.”
Among the more noteworthy policy and program changes documented in the report:
- A revised disciplinary system that encourages staff to use counseling and intervention methods to curb inappropriate behaviors among the youth. As a result, time added to sentences for inappropriate behavior was reduced by 72.5 percent while credit for good behavior increased 134 percent.
- DJJ’s hiring of a veteran Superintendent to lead its accredited network of schools was one significant accomplishment in an educational program that has seen a dramatic improvement in academic achievement. In the last few years, more than 5,000 youth have earned GED’s, high school diplomas or attended vocational or college classes, a 300 percent increase despite a decline in the number of youth committed to DJJ.
- Program Service Day, a newly implemented coordinated schedule that makes counseling and treatment services available during most of the youths’ waking hours, has reduced interruptions during the day and resulted in students spending more time in the classroom.
- Counseling and treatment programs, such as “Girls Moving On”, also were developed to address the unique behavior and treatment needs of female offenders housed in Ventura, which often stem from their involvement in dysfunctional relationships.
- New assessments are conducted to readily identify youth who have a high risk of suicide or self-injurious behavior, one of the most vulnerable segments of the juvenile population. New policies have been instituted to address their mental health needs while integrating them into the main population of each facility as much as possible. In addition, pilot programs are testing new treatment options for youth with highly volatile emotions who pose the greatest risk.
- All five DJJ facilities and two fire camps established quarterly family events to give parents and other family members opportunities to spend time with the youth in the facilities and to discuss the youth’s progress and needs with DJJ staff, including counselors and teachers as well as medical and mental health professionals.
- Inreased training of nurses, peer review practices among medical professionals, computerized record-keeping, and stronger management controls have improved the quality of health care and reduced pharmacology costs.
- By the end of 2009, every physical plant modification required by the Wards with Disabilities Remedial Plan was completed in all five DJJ institutions and both of its fire camps.