Story and photos by Ike Dodson, PIO
Office of Public and Employee Communications
Perhaps it’s his nature, or perhaps it’s his experience as chair of the Board of Juvenile Hearings, but either way, recently-appointed Director of the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), Chuck Supple, has a knack for spotting potential.
It’s how he’s emboldened former juvenile offenders to reach remarkable heights after incarceration, and probably how he saw a chance to transform a routine swearing-in ceremony into an inspirational event for youthful offenders, DJJ staff and CDCR stakeholders.
Instead of a subdued swearing-in event in the executive offices at CDCR Headquarters in Sacramento, Supple invited staff and youthful offenders to an insightful forum with ex-offenders, advocates and Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs inside the visiting room at O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility in Stockton Sept. 5.
“The mission of helping youth to change and reenter the community successfully is not ours alone,” Supple explained. “It’s one achieved in a close partnership with the community, so I wanted to send a strong signal that I am taking this on, on behalf of a community represented today by a crime survivor, former offenders, a community organization and the Mayor.”
It was Tubbs, the 27-year-old political wunderkind endorsed by President Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey, who ultimately enjoyed the honor of swearing Supple in.
Tubbs is the first African-American mayor of Stockton and one of the youngest mayors in U.S. history. His father was serving time inside a youth correctional facility the day he was born.
Breaking the cycle and becoming a symbol for change has given Tubbs remarkable insight into the effect of treatment of youthful offenders, bolstered by education and interventions necessary to encourage positive lifestyles, reduce recidivism, strengthen families and protect vulnerable communities like Stockton’s.
Tubbs asked staff and youth what a community of second chances looks like, with safety and wellness at mind. He explained that his primary focus is to make sure folks live in communities with opportunities.
“As mayor, I can’t control the choices you make, but I can try my best to make sure you live in a community that provides you with the opportunity to make the right choices,” he said. “Part of it is understanding that you guys are still young men and you are redeemable.
“You have done nothing that should disqualify you from success, and it’s our job to work with you as you develop and grow into adulthood.”
The panel of visitors offered a wealth of insight to Supple and staff. Samuel Nunez of Fathers & Families of San Joaquin encouraged youth to reach out upon reentry. Kent Mendoza, a former offender and policy coordinator for the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, inspired youth to read and encouraged staff to show love for youth.
Supple reminded offenders that a list of resources and organizations is only as good as the relationships built with people behind that list.
“The one thing we know about reform in the juvenile justice system is that reentry begins at intake,” he said. “You need to start planning and thinking about going home the day you get here, and that means reducing your risk for recidivism, but also what your plan is for education, your next step in the community and what certificate you want to get before you leave here, so you can hit the ground running.
“I have worked here a long time and I have seen into the eyes and hearts of DJJ staff. They are here for the right reasons ― they care. They want to make a difference in the lives of young people both for the safety of our community and the rehabilitation of our youth.”
Supple’s mission to provide opportunities for growth and change by identifying and responding to the unique needs of incarcerated youth follows in the footsteps of Tony Lucero, who was appointed Director of DJJ last August and retired a year later.
Supple was chair of the Board of Juvenile Hearings since 2016, where he has served as a member since 2014. He was a DJJ parole agent from 2010 to 2014 and thrived in several positions with DJJ from 2006 to 2010, including executive officer of the Board of Juvenile Hearings and youthful offender hearing representative.
Supple was executive director of the Governor’s Office on Service and Volunteerism from 2000 to 2003 and chief executive officer at Public Allies Inc. from 1995 to 2000. He was director of nonprofit outreach at the Corporation for National Service from 1994 to 1995 and a senior executive on loan to the White House Office of National Service in 1993. Supple was vice president of youth programs at the Points of Light Foundation from 1991 to 1993 and executive director of the California Campus Compact at the University of California, Los Angeles from 1988 to 1991. He was awarded the CDCR Distinguished Service Medal in 2014. Supple earned a Master of Public Administration degree from Harvard University.
It’s a storied past, but Supple’s ambition for the future of the DJJ should provide inspiration for even greater achievements.
“I feel strongly that we are becoming the premier youth and young adult rehabilitation treatment facility of the 21st century, and that all eyes will be upon us, asking how we are able to do it,” Supple said. “I am going to do everything I can to support DJJ moving into that future.
“That is my commitment to you.”