Prison officials from Japan tour Ventura Youth Correctional Facility.

Prison officials from Japan tour Ventura Youth Correctional Facility.

By Joe Orlando, CDCR Public Information Officer
Office of Public and Employee Communications

A group representing Japan’s Ministry of Justice visited Ventura Youth Correctional Facility (VYCF) to learn more about the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) and youth corrections.

Consular Officer Emiko Mita said the group was especially interested in how VYCF and DJJ deal with complaints.

“We are just beginning the complaint issue. Those brought by the juvenile offender and also perhaps their family,” Mita said.

VYCF Superintendent Mark Blaser said complaints can be lodged by any juvenile offender at any time or by a family member.

“We encourage the youth to first discuss the issue with the youth correctional counselor in their housing unit, or any other staff member. They can also file a complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman or the Inspector General’s Office,” Blaser said.

Also of interest to the visitors was how the facility’s staff deals with juvenile offenders experiencing disciplinary or behavior issues.

Through Officer Mita, who acted as an interpreter, Shuichi Ichida asked how VYCF staff dealt with problematic youth. Ichida said in Japan, they can confine a youth offender with disciplinary problems for 20 days in their room.

“At Ventura, and throughout all DJJ facilities, we confine a problematic youth to their room, but never isolate them for any length of time,” Blaser explained. “It’s called the Temporary Intervention Program or ‘TIP’. The longest it lasts is maybe three days. During that time, the youth will see their counselor, mental health experts and teachers. They are never isolated or left alone for more than a few hours.”

Through the interpreter Mita, another Japanese correction staffer, Hideo Ishihara, who is similar in rank to a lieutenant, said another reason they wanted to visit VYCF is because there are male and female youth offenders. The ratio is approximately ten males to every female.

Isihara said in Japan the juvenile justice facilities are not broken up by city, county or state. The 3,000 young offenders are all under the Ministry of Justice Correction Bureau that houses them in 56 facilities throughout the country.

DJJ Deputy Director, Tony Lucero explained that there was a time when DJJ housed 10,000 inmates in 11 facilities.

“But after we were mandated by the courts and legislation, and also when we changed over from the California Youth Authority to the Division of Juvenile Justice, we closed a number of facilities and currently have about 700 youth in four different locations.”

The group also toured the facility, and talked to staff at each location. They visited Mary B. Perry High School where Principal Art Westerfield showed the visitors the classrooms; and answered questions.

They wanted to see the living quarters and talk to the young offenders. Ichida asked one young man, “What is it you do throughout the day?”

“I already have my high school diploma, so I work. I have worked in the kitchen. I have done custodial work,” the young offender explained.

Ishihara asked another youth, “I understand that gangs can be a problem in prisons and in youth facilities. What can you tell me about that?”

“It can be a problem with the different gangs from the north and the south and different races, but after a while, you realize we all have to try and just get along, or we’d just be fighting all the time and not getting anything done,” the youth offender explained.

“In my country, food is important. It’s important to youth offenders as well,” Ichida said.

“Oh it’s important here too,” another juvenile explained. “We know if we mess up we could have privileges taken away, that may include not being able to buy snacks, or participate in celebrations where there may be cakes and cookies.”

Before the Japanese correctional employees left, they were given gifts – a crate of strawberries grown down the road, VYCF polo shirts and travel bags.

Ishihara told the staff from VYCF, “This visit is very helpful to me and to others as we learn and develop our juvenile correctional practices. We will be forever grateful for your openness, your kindness and your shared wisdom. I thank you and my country thanks you.”

Prison officials from Japan speak to youth offenders.

Prison officials from Japan speak to youth offenders.