By Joe Orlando, CDCR Public Information Officer
Office of Public and Employee Communications
On June 30, Mike Minor’s career with CDCR came to an end – for the second time. The now former Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Director officially retired after 30 years of public service, leaving an indelible legacy of his vision, work and passion for a job he never envisioned he would have back in 1986. Not only has he dedicated his life to helping rehabilitate our state’s most serious young offenders, he has also been credited with helping DJJ become a national model for youthful offender programs. Minor recently took time to reflect on his career at DJJ, and how much both he and the Division have evolved.
What makes a good leader?
Being willing to learn, listen and have patience. Someone who allows those around him to take risks, and is always there to support them. A good leader is someone who is willing to step in front of the bullet, and take the hit for the good of the team. I have been so fortunate to have great people around me. It’s been a wonderful career. I will miss it.
Walk us through your CDCR career.
I started in 1986 as a Youth Correctional Officer (YCO), and quickly became a Youth Correctional Counselor. At that time, I thought, “This is great; I’ve got a good job. I’m putting food on the table, and providing for my family.” I never thought in a million years that I would work my way up the ladder to become Director. And I should thank the people that I met along the way that encouraged me to look for better opportunities, and apply for better jobs within the Department. I took their advice, and because of this, I became a Sergeant, Lieutenant, Captain, Major, Assistant Superintendent, and Superintendent, until my first retirement in 2010. In 2012, I was asked to come back to serve as the Director of DJJ, which I saw as an incredible opportunity.
Can you tell us about some of the more significant changes you have seen since you’ve been with DJJ.
As I reflect back, I realize I started with the CDCR at a pretty good time. Our programming was going well, the California Youth Authority (now known as the DJJ) was well-respected.
Over time, however, the juvenile system ballooned to 11,000 youthful offenders in our 11 facilities, and that really was a struggle. Then came the Farrell lawsuit in 2003, and that literally changed everything. We had to change who we were as a Division and how we did things. We were mandated by the courts to make changes, which we did.
For instance, we implemented six detailed remedial plans for youth offenders in the areas of 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), which became the cornerstone of everything DJJ does to assess, understand and treat the youth in our charge.
That transition was challenging, and it sometimes felt like we did things by trial-and-error, which was not an easy thing to do. But it goes to show the character of our staff, which was able to roll up their sleeves to make this a better place for all of us: the administrators, staff, the youth and their families. It took us more than a decade, but when we terminated the lawsuit on February of this year, it was the culmination of years of hard work.
We accepted and embraced the changes, and our entire system has really benefited from them.
What have you seen as far as changes in the youth who have come to DJJ over the past 10 to 20 years?
For several years now, we have no longer taken the low to medium risk offenders. Instead, we receive those who have sometimes committed atrocious crimes, and are very serious offenders. That has been a very significant change, but things like the IBTM have been great tools to help these youth. What you have to remember as well is that we also now get a lot of the youth who have mental cognitive impairments along with the criminal element, and that takes a lot of special rehabilitative treatment and care. There was a time when we had a cookie-cutter approach to dealing with youth offenders, but that is no longer the case. We have realized that each individual is very different and unique, and so is the treatment they receive. It is more targeted to fit their specific needs. It’s a great thing.
What was your greatest challenge?
Just realizing how much we had to change to improve the safety and welfare of the youth we took in, and how we needed to reform the use of force and rely on our mental health staff to help us neutralize conflict or disruptive incidents. We implemented programs that focused on behavior management to support pro-social behavior for youth needing more specialized attention and intervention through the development of a treatment plan, motivational interviewing, cognitive behavior therapy and evidence-based interventions. Change across the board was the greatest challenge, as was working every day to make sure we were all on the same page with our treatment. I think that tested many of us, but it was my responsibility to make sure our staff was not being afraid to make changes that were needed, not being afraid to fail, and persevere when it seemed like things were not changing fast enough. I’m very proud of that.
What advice would you give young people considering a career with DJJ?
I encourage them to do their research before applying, and to be familiar with our mission. I would tell them to realize just how important they are, and what a critical role they play. The Youth Correctional Officers and Correctional Counselors are the ones who deal with the youthful offenders on a daily basis. They are the ones who are the most influential in their lives while they are here, and they are the ones who can set a good example with the way they carry themselves and the way they treat others. They have to be that good role models that others will respect, follow and listen.
Mike Roots, Erin Brock, Mark Blaser are all Superintendents who recently retired. That’s a lot of high level people, including yourself, who have left a significant mark on DJJ. Is the division still in good hands?
Those are all good people, good leaders who dedicated their careers to making DJJ a great place to work. The division will still be in good hands because those who have been a part of the system know how we do things. They know the bar has been set high, and are aware that it is up to them to maintain the high standards that their predecessors have set.
Where do you see DJJ in five, 10 or 20 years?
I have no doubt the foundation we have laid over the last decade will only become stronger, and the people who continue to serve DJJ will be honorable people who will be as dedicated as the people who have brought us to the point of being a national model.
How do you want to be remembered?
As the type of leader who led by example, who was always willing to listen and learn from others, who was always here when you failed, but encouraged you to get back up. We made working and living conditions better, and the people who were a part of this became better. I want to be remembered as someone who earned their trust, and was always there for them. I always gave my best.