By Bill Sessa, PIO

It’s been a busy month for the Division of Juvenile Justice, in which the Legislature approved its new director and the DJJ’s efforts to improve health care programs for juvenile offenders scored a significant approval by the courts.

On Feb. 21, Mike Minor was confirmed by the state Senate as Director, Division of Juvenile Justice.  Minor has spent his entire 28-year career working with juveniles.

He began his career as a Youth Correctional Officer and has held many positions in the DJJ and the former California Youth Authority. The positions included Superintendent of DJJ’s Stockton complex, which houses the O.H. Close and N.A. Chaderjian youth correctional facilities, before assuming the Director’s position a year ago.

In other positive news, on Feb. 15, Attorney General Kamala Harris, representing CDCR, and the Prison Law Office agreed to end court oversight of DJJ’s Health Care Remedial plan, a portion of a six-part consent decree filed as a class-action lawsuit (Farrell) in November 2004.  In a stipulation filed with the Alameda County Superior Court, the parties agreed that “a comprehensive system is now in place to ensure that DJJ youth receive adequate medical care under the California constitution, and all institutions have passed the Medical Care Court’s experts’ audits with high scores.”

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard noted that the agreement to end court oversight of DJJ’s Health Care program is a sign that “California’s juvenile program has put a troubled past behind it and is on its way to restoring its reputation as a national leader in treating and rehabilitating juvenile offenders.  With Mr. Minor at the helm of DJJ, I am confident we will continue to see improvements in how we prepare young offenders to succeed in our communities.”

Minor attributed the achievements under the remedial plans “to the dedication of the DJJ staff, most of whom have devoted their careers to helping troubled youth.”

Under the Farrell consent decree, DJJ upgraded its medical treatment programs and procedures with the guidance of court-appointed, independent health care experts for its three juvenile correctional facilities in Stockton and Ventura.  In their most recent audit at the end of 2012, the court’s overseers found DJJ in “substantial compliance” with 89 percent of 2,058 items related to delivering health care and in “partial compliance” with the other 11 percent.

That same audit found DJJ in “substantial compliance” with 86 percent of 4,500 program and procedure changes in remedial plans covering Education, Sex Offender treatment, accommodation of Wards with Disabilities, Mental Health, and the overall Safety and Welfare environment in its facilities, in addition to Health Care.

Formerly known as the California Youth Authority, the DJJ once housed as many as 10,000 juvenile offenders in 11 correctional facilities.  In the last 15 years, as policy makers encouraged that more youth be housed and treated in their home communities, the DJJ population has been reduced to 768 wards in three facilities.  All of those youth, some as old as 23, have been adjudicated for crimes that the Penal Code classifies as “serious” or “violent” or sex offenses.  They are considered to be the state’s most troubled juvenile offenders with the most serious violent backgrounds and the most extensive treatment needs.

All of DJJ’s treatment programs have been developed with the help of national and court-appointed experts and are supported by evidence that they are effective with California’s unique juvenile offender population.

Among DJJ’s more notable achievements through its remedial plans:

  • DJJ’s Sex Offender Treatment Program has been rated as “highly effective” by a national standards group, the Correctional Programs Checklist, and is being recognized as a national model for treatment of youth sex offenders;
  • Through the accredited high schools in each of DJJ’s three facilities, more than 6,000 juveniles have earned a high school diploma, GED, a vocational skills certificate, or enrolled in college courses since 2005, a more than 300 percent increase at a time of declining enrollment.
  • Last November, the court lifted its supervision of DJJ’s Dental Care program, noting that it not only met all the requirements of the remedial plan, but exceeded them.
  • DJJ successfully rolled out the court-ordered Integrated Behavior Treatment Model (ITBM) at O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility and will continue to expand the program at the N.A. Chadjerian and Ventura facilities.