Story and photos by Ike Dodson, PIO
Office of Public and Employee Communications
Before he departed CDCR via retirement last month, Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Director Tony Lucero discussed his insight into the department’s mission to provide opportunities for growth and change by identifying and responding to the unique needs of youth.
Lucero was appointed director of DJJ in 2016, after serving as the division’s deputy director of operations and programs from 2012 to 2016 and chief of labor from 2011 to 2012. He was youth authority administrator at the Preston Youth Correctional Facility from 2010 to 2011, where he was a major from 2006 to 2009. Prior to that, he was youth authority administrator at O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility from 2009 to 2010, and treatment team supervisor from 2000 to 2006.
His tenure with CDCR began in 1998 as a youth correctional counselor and youth correctional officer at the Ventura Youth Correctional Facility.
Recently, Lucero reflected on his storied career in juvenile justice and fielded questions from CDCR’s Office of Public and Employee Communications in a special exit Q&A.
What will keep you busy in retirement?
During the first month of retirement I plan on working around the house and assisting with the care of my in-laws. After the first month or two, my wife and I will do some traveling and horseback riding to explore a few of the local trails.
What did you enjoy most about your time working with California’s incarcerated youth?
Throughout my career I have always enjoyed the personal interaction with the youth in our care. In addition, I have enjoyed mentoring new staff as they begin their careers with DJJ.
What is your biggest takeaway from working with DJJ staff?
One person can make a difference in the lives of others. When you see the professional development of staff you have worked with directly and the changes in the youth that you provided counseling and services to, you cannot explain the feeling of satisfaction that overcomes you with their personal growth.
What changes in DJJ you were most proud of?
When I began my career, the CYA/DJJ was recognized as a national leader in the field of juvenile justice. It took a lot out of the staff who worked in DJJ when an article came out and said we were hurting the youth in our care and damaging them further. I have witnessed the department undergo several transformations since the ’80s when we focused on a treatment model. In the 1990s, the idea of the juvenile “super predator” was introduced and supporters of this argument concluded that the rehabilitative approach of the juvenile justice system was wasted on these youth because their natures were largely unchangeable.
Juvenile justice policies and procedures were changed, and the treatment of youth became secondary to protecting the public by incarcerating them. The 2000s arrived and DJJ did not have an identity in my opinion. We knew that the youth in our care were paramount, but due to budget and administrative changes the fate of DJJ was uncertain.
In short, the accomplishment that I am most proud of is the development of the Integrated Behavior Treatment Model (IBTM). The IBTM laid the foundation for DJJ to move forward with a cognitive behavioral treatment approach which is used to help increase safety our facilities and upon the youth’s release into the community. During this transformation of DJJ, there was not an area that was not touched as a result of this new approach. The administration and the staff at the facilities accepted the challenge of becoming change agents. Through their expertise and hard work, DJJ has been able to return to the forefront in the field of juvenile justice. There is presently a good mix of new and veteran staff to keep the momentum moving forward in to the future.
How would you describe the current state of the DJJ?
I would say the current state of DJJ is in good shape. There is a promising group of young leaders excited to guide the division into the future. As I mentioned earlier, there is a good blend of young and veteran staff. The new staff will excel as long as they keep an open mind, ask for help when uncertain, and pay attention in training. The veteran staff will exercise patience with the newer staff. We must remember that everyone starts as a new staff member and it was someone, a co-worker or maybe a supervisor, that helped us along when we thought we knew everything and kept us on the right path. DJJ is providing more training to staff that in turn will help the staff work with the youth under their care, thus producing better outcomes with the youth. I look forward to the continual growth as DJJ evolves with the research in the field of juvenile justice.
Thoughts on recently appointed DJJ Director Chuck Supple?
Mr. Supple is a good choice for the director position. He is full of energy and is excited for the opportunity. Mr. Supple, along with Dr. Heather Bowlds, will be a dynamic team to lead DJJ forward. The two of them have a vision for the future for DJJ. The former Director Michael Minor and myself were able to move the department out of a lawsuit and sustain the changes with help from all the staff. Now is a great time for innovation and I believe Mr. Supple and Dr. Bowlds are the right team to pioneer programs and treatment services aligned with the current state of juvenile justice.
Do any particularly fond memories stick out the most from your time with CDCR?
There are a lot of memories that stick out over my career. I remember graduating from the academy and listening to the director give his words of encouragement before I started my career. In 2016, I found myself giving the graduation speech as the director. That was a surreal moment. Until that instance, I had never imaged myself as the director of DJJ.
I will always cherish friendships that I have built with my co-workers that have lasted over 20 plus years, as well as the support of the staff along the way. I have very fond memories of the youth that I had contact with throughout my career, especially those that have shared their success stories and the impact I had on their lives.
Do you have any parting words of advice for DJJ staff that look to continue your mission with the department?
As famous UCLA coach John Wooden would say, failing to prepare is preparing to fail. In other words, put the time in to be successful in your career and personal lives. In the long run you will be happier in life.