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Story by Ike Dodson, PIO, OPEC
Photos by Eric Owens, CDCR Staff Photographer

Correctional Sgt. Rachel Brunetti squared her shoulders to face 38 stoic, but still eager faces atop rigid frames in the front row of the Sierra Auditorium at Richard A. McGee Correctional Training Center (CTC) and shook the walls with a thunderous call to action March 3.

“We stand to pay tribute to you, Academy Class 1-17, for your academic achievement, commitment, dedication and overall job well done!” Brunetti bellowed. “You are dismissed!”

Brunetti’s boisterous send-off signaled the end to a jubilant ceremony for 28 youth correctional counselors and 10 youth correctional officers of Class 1-17-J, Cheyenne Company at the end of CDCR’s 16-week Basic Correctional Juvenile Academy (BCJA).

The former cadets have been designated for one of three Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) facilities in California. Six were assigned to the Ventura Youth Correctional Facility while Stockton’s N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility and O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility will receive the bulk of graduates.

The Office of Peace Officer Selection receives allocations from DJJ approximately 60 days prior to the academy start date. The allocations are broken down by juvenile facility and indicate the number of officers/counselors to be hired. Applicants are then hired from a statewide certification list.

Thanks to rigorous background checks and psychological, medical and physical evaluations, only 4 percent of correctional officer/counselor applicants successfully complete the screening process and are eligible to attend the academy.

It’s what makes each graduating class so unique, and why the BCJA has a sterling graduation rate of 95 percent since 2015.

“We lose a lot of people to the screening process, but fortunately for us, that process allows us to get the right people here who are going to represent not only themselves well, but also the department,” CTC Academy Administrator Jason Lowe said. “It’s an honor to send them off and salute them for their hard work.

“It also recognizes the sacrifice that continues for them and their families, based on the needs of a 24-7 operation. It’s one of the most important things the department does and it’s an honor for me to take part in it every time.

The ritual is especially significant for Lowe, who enjoyed his own ceremony in the Sierra Auditorium when he was a cadet in 1995.

“You kind of reflect on being in those seats and the moment of raising your right hand and having a loved-one pin the badge on your chest,” Lowe said. “That’s an honor that is very unique to law enforcement and I am proud to know what these young women and men have been through.

“I’m just excited for them to come into the family and make a difference, providing leadership and the proper approach to effect change and keep the public safe.”

CTC hosts a BCJA graduation once or twice a year following training on custody procedures and also the Integrated Behavior Treatment Model (IBTM), a vital DJJ course structure.

Since DJJ facilities also contain a high school, education is paramount to the correctional officer/counselor training process. It’s why DJJ Superintendent of Education, Troy Fennel, participated in the March 3 ceremony at CTC.

“This group allows us to do our job,” Fennel said. “They provide facility security, keep the young people motivated in the hall to come into school and if we have an issue with attendance they are the ones responding.

“Every time we get a new group in it allows us to keep our treatment and rehabilitation going.”

IBTM is designed to reduce institutional violence and future criminal behavior by teaching anti-criminal attitudes and personal skills so youthful offenders can better manage their environment.

“In DJJ they get all of our therapeutic and rehabilitative programs, so they are introduced to IBTM , they are introduced to counseling and they are introduced to the way we do business as far as how you treat a juvenile offender,” Fennel said. “They also get motivational interviewing techniques, which helps them in the dialogue.

“It helps them deescalate the youth when they are getting ready to be agitated and makes them aware of what programs we are providing to them.”

The March 3 ceremony also included remarks by DJJ Deputy Director Heather Bowlds and the enthusiastic support of DJJ Director Anthony Lucero.

“DJJ has a promising future and the youth served will benefit our communities,” Lucero said. “It is great to see the next generation of staff with such excitement to start their careers with DJJ, ready to lead our department into the future.”

CDCR received 776 applications across just three days for youth correctional officers and counselors during the acceptance period from Feb. 21-24. While those applicants are being scrutinized, CTC cycles in a new group of cadets for 12-week adult institution training every six weeks.

It’s not an easy process, but the graduates of CTC’s nine to 10 academies each year will have earned the right to hear their correctional sergeant shake the walls with a “job well done!”