The 71 Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) academy graduates may be new to the world of youth corrections, but they bring a wealth of experience that transcends several generations.
“This is the biggest age gap we’ve ever had,” said Captain Kenneth Fewer, who directed the 16 week academy — DJJ’s first in more than two years. The youngest cadet was 23 while the oldest was 57. Graduates will enter new careers as Youth Correctional Counselors (YCC) and Youth Correctional Officers (YCO) at the five DJJ facilities and two camps throughout California.
A study of the backgrounds of this graduating class revealed some interesting facts. Some graduates had traded their badges in city police and county sheriff departments for DJJ shields, making mid-career changes forced by cutbacks and budget woes in local agencies.
“It just shows how tough things are out there,” said Fewer.
The mid-March ceremony, attended by an estimated 500 family members, also showed that working in the correctional field or law enforcement is often a family tradition. As they walked across the stage at the Richard A. McGee Training Facility in Galt, many of the graduates were presented their badges by husbands, wives, or parents who are CDCR or DJJ officers. In other cases, badges were presented by relatives who are current or retired law enforcement officers and, in one case, a U.S. Navy officer in full dress uniform.
After the ceremonies, among the congratulatory hugs and picture taking, the honor of pinning the bright new badges for the first time went in some cases to spouses or children. A sign that the academy graduation, as well as the career that lies ahead, involves the entire family.
Over the 16 weeks, besides the physical workouts and pepper spray sessions, the cadets mastered 110 lesson plans and five major exams. Academy covered a wide range of topics from effective ways to diffuse a violent situation without force to tutorials on treatment programs and their importance in rehabilitating youth.
DJJ Deputy Director Steve Kruse reminded the class that “we probably have the most violent youth in the country. The most important thing we can teach you is to strive to make changes in their lives, to remold them and change their behavior. You’re in for the ride of your life.”