California now national model for youth offender treatment
By Joe Orlando, CDCR Public Information Officer
Photos by Eric Owens, CDCR Staff Photographer
Office of Public and Employee Communications
After more than a decade of reforms in California’s juvenile justice system – including limiting use of force, involving families in the rehabilitation of youth, and greatly reducing the juvenile offender population – on Feb. 25, the Alameda County Superior Court terminated the Farrell lawsuit against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).
“The Farrell case was resolved through years of hard work to improve our juvenile justice system,” said CDCR Secretary Scott Kernan. “DJJ has transformed itself into a national leader run by a staff that believes in rehabilitation.”
On Jan. 16, 2003, Margaret Farrell, a taxpayer in the state of California, filed a lawsuit against the director of what was then called the California Youth Authority (CYA). The suit claimed CYA was expending funds on policies, procedures and practices that were illegal under state law. Farrell also claimed that CYA failed in its statutory duties to provide adequate treatment and rehabilitation for juvenile offenders in its care. The lawsuit also alleged that the youth offenders were denied adequate medical, dental and mental health care.
On Nov. 19, 2004, the parties entered into a consent decree in which DJJ agreed to develop and implement six detailed remedial plans in the following areas: safety and welfare, mental health, education, sexual behavior treatment, health care, dental services, and youth with disabilities. One of the most important reforms was the implementation of the Integrated Behavior Treatment Model (IBTM), a comprehensive approach to assessing, understanding and treating youth. The IBTM helps to reduce institutional violence and the risk of future criminal behavior.
“So many significant changes were made with Farrell, but I think the key would be the culture shift. We became an organization that’s built on evidence-based treatment programs that help youth build skills to be successful upon release,” DJJ Director Mike Minor said.
Separate from the Farrell remedial plans, but an important part of the overall reform, was the 2007 realignment of California’s juvenile justice system which reduced the DJJ population from 10,000 youth offenders to approximately 700. This made the living units less crowded and led to an improved staff- to-youth ratio.
One of the experts appointed by the court to assist in the transformation of DJJ was Barry Krisberg, a Senior Fellow at the UC Berkeley School of Law and a nationally known authority on juvenile justice. In a paper from 2014, Krisberg wrote that DJJ is “one of the most progressive juvenile corrections systems in the nation” and it “offers many very valuable policies and processes that could well benefit other jurisdictions.”
Now that the Farrell case has been terminated, DJJ will continue to offer and build on the services offered. These include the operation of an accredited school district providing youth with the same high school curriculum that they would receive in their home community. All non-graduates attend school Monday through Friday to work toward their high school diploma or, if they have short commitment periods, toward their GED’s. From 2010-2015, a total of 1,070 youth earned their high school diplomas or GED’s at one of the four DJJ youth facilities. Also during that time, 696 youth earned nationally recognized certificates in vocational training.