By Joe Orlando, CDCR Public Information Officer
Office of Public and Employee Communications
When Anthony Lucero first joined the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), he was unsure of the path he wanted to take. After all, it was the late 1980s, and he was in his early 20s. Now, the 28-year DJJ veteran has been named the division’s director. Inside CDCR recently sat down with Lucero as he recalled the journey that has led him to a fulfilling career, and how he is looking forward to the challenges ahead.
What are your thoughts on being named DJJ Director?
First off, I would like to say that I am very humbled, and then also ready to continue the good work that DJJ has been doing for the past several years. When I found out I was going to be named Director, it took a week to sink in. I was sworn in on a Thursday, and it was the end of the following week, at Erin Brock’s (former O.H. Close/Chad Superintendent) retirement party, when I ran into former colleagues I used to work with. Many came up to me, and addressed me as “Mr. Director,” and it caught me a bit off-guard, but it made me very proud to continue the legacy. I’ve always wanted to be in a position where your decisions are counted, and you can have influence in making positive changes. With my past several titles, I have been able to affect change, but now, I’m directly involved in legislation and policy change, communicating with outside stakeholders, sharing the vision of DJJ. I never envisioned myself as the Director, but I certainly feel like I have the background and the knowledge to lead this talented and committed team.
Walk us through your DJJ career.
It started at the Ventura Youth Correctional Facility back in 1988. I cannot believe it has been 28 years. I had applied for different academies, including the California Highway Patrol, CDCR’s Division of Adult Institutions (DAI), and DJJ. DJJ was the first one to call me back, so I accepted the position, and I started out as a Youth Correctional Counselor (YCC). The funny thing was that, while I was at the academy, I also heard back from CHP and DAI, but my loyalty was with DJJ at that point. I really liked the mission and the vision, and wanted to be a part of that.
I spent three years as a YCC in Ventura, and it was an eye-opening experience, because at that time, I was the same age as some of our offenders. Throughout the years, I also worked on the substance abuse team at Karl Holton Youth Drug and Alcohol Abuse Treatment Center. At De Witt Nelson Correctional Facility, I worked in a minimum security facility, where each day 150 to 200 youth would work in the local communities. I then moved on to being major and assistant superintendent at the Preston Youth Correctional Facility, and I also spent a few years at O.H. Close as an assistant superintendent. I worked on the labor side for a few years, and then four years ago, I applied for the DJJ deputy director position. It’s been such an honor to have the opportunities to grow in this department, and experience different positions. They give you such a well-rounded vision of what we do.
Why did you dedicate your career to DJJ?
For me, it was the advancement opportunities I’ve been able to take advantage of, and of course, the work that we do with youth offenders. Over the years, there has been so much satisfaction in seeing a young person get their high school diploma, or get certified in a vocational skill. We literally have the ability to change lives for the better, and give youth the opportunity to acquire an education, job skills, and the rehabilitation that they need to successfully integrate back into their communities once they leave us. It’s just been great to be a part of the change at DJJ, and to be able to implement programming that makes a difference. This is truly a terrific department.
What do you see as your biggest challenges?
My first order of business is to put a succession plan together, so that we are appropriately training our future leaders. While we were prepared to have a smooth transition after the retirements of Director Michael Minor and Superintendents Erin Brock (O.H. Close/N.A. Chaderjian), Mark Blaser (Ventura YCF), and Mike Roots (Pine Grove Youth Conservation Camp), I want to make sure people have the training, skills and opportunities to lead at a moment’s notice, and continue the mission and vision of our department and division. This is especially important since we just saw our way through the Farrell lawsuit termination after 13 years, and although that was a tremendous accomplishment, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. We also have to continue to provide the same quality treatment and rehabilitation to our youth that has been the cornerstone of our success. Our job is not to punish the youth under our care; the courts have already done that. We are here to provide them with the skills, resources, and tools they need, so they can serve their time productively, and become good citizens when they leave us.
Former Director Michael Minor left some pretty big shoes to fill.
Absolutely. Mr. Minor put us on the right path, and we will absolutely continue in that trajectory. As the director, it’s my job to build on the momentum he left, and continue to move us forward.
Do you anticipate any major changes in your leadership?
Our division is seen as a national leader in how we treat youth offenders, and I would like to continue to build on that. In the future, I would like to be able to provide more job opportunities for the youth, so that when they leave us, they have a foundation and a skill on which to build upon. I would also like to see us provide more vocational programs within our facilities, so the youth can go to a job that will eventually provide them with a living wage. I really want to serve our youth, and the people of California, to the best of my abilities. Right now, I’m just thrilled that I’m in a position to direct change, and lead DJJ into the future.