The Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) is a detention and rehabilitation system for California’s most serious juvenile offenders. Formerly called the California Youth Authority, DJJ is part of California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Its correctional facilities are the closest thing to adult prison in the juvenile system.1
A minor can only be sent to a DJJ correctional facility if:
- the child has been made a ward of the court, AND
- the most recent offense committed is listed in WIC 707(b), OR
- the most recent offense is a sex offense specified in Penal Code 290.008(c).
In general, California youths sent to DJJ face long and severe commitments. Youths can be confined for up to the maximum time that could be imposed on an adult for the same offense. Juveniles are assigned to a locked-down institution based on:
- maturity level,
- educational needs,
- individual risk and needs.
In this article, our California Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorneys will highlight some of the most important things to know about the Division of Juvenile Justice and DJJ facilities. We cover:
- 1. What is the Division of Juvenile Justice?
- 2. What are the Division of Juvenile Justice Facilities?
- 3. What Crimes Qualify a Minor for Commitment to a DJJ Facility?
- 4. What is Life Like For a Youth in a DJJ Facility?
- 5. How Long Can a Youth Be Sentenced to DJJ?
- 6. Can a Commitment to DJF Be Changed or Modified?
- 7. Are Youths Put on Parole After Release From DJJ?
If you have further questions after reading this article, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group for a consultation.
1. What is the Division of Juvenile Justice?
For many decades California’s worst juvenile offenders were sent to CYA, or California Youth Authority. In 2005, CYA came under the control of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. CYA is now called the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).
DJJ provides education and treatment to young offenders up to the age of 25. Of the 225,000 youths arrested in California each year, less than 700 are sent to DJJ. Being placed in a DJF facility is the closest thing to adult prison in the juvenile court system.
(Note that in Los Angeles County, the District Attorney’s Office tries to avoid prosecuting youth in favor of helping them through community rehabilitative programs.)2
2. What Are the Division of Juvenile Justice Facilities?
The Division of Juvenile Justice facilities are locked institutions intended for the most serious juvenile offenders. There are currently three DJJ correctional facilities and one forestry camp. Two facilities are located in Stockton and the third is in Camarillo. The forestry camp is located in Pine Grove.
The main purpose of sending a youth to DJJ is not punishment. Instead, youth will be sent to DJF with the goals of achieving:
- community restoration,
- victim restoration, and
- offender training and treatment.3
There are basically three ways a young person can be sent to a DJJ facility. If the offender is:
- committed by a juvenile court,
- tried as an adult and committed by a criminal court, OR
- tried as an adult, committed to adult prison, but ordered housed in a DJJ facility.
When the court is considering sending a youth to DJF, it might order the minor committed for a 90-day diagnostic study. The study will make treatment recommendations to the judge.
3. What Crimes Qualify a Minor for Commitment to a DJJ Facility?
Since 2012, a youth may only be sent to a DJJ correctional facility if he or she has been made a ward of the court and:
- the most recent offense found true or admitted is listed in WIC 707(b), OR
- the most recent offense is a sex offense specified in Penal Code section 290.008(c).
A minor must be at least 11 years old to be sent to DJF.4 Minors who have been sentenced to adult prison will be transferred to an adult facility at age 18 unless they can complete their sentence before they turn 25. They must also take advantage of any programs being offered to remain in DJF.
Youths are assigned to a DJJ program based on:
- maturity level,
- educational needs,
- individual risk and treatment needs.
4. What is Life Like for a Youth in a DJJ Facility?
In general, commitments to DJJ are long and severe. All youths must attend school full-time. If a youth completes high school, college programs and vocational training programs are offered. Many youths are assigned paying jobs at the DJJ facility where they live. Such jobs include:
- food prep, AND
- janitorial work.
In addition to the core programs, DJJ youths may be assigned to programs to address specific individual needs. These programs include:
- sexual behavior treatment,
- mental health residential units,
- intensive behavior treatment, AND
- behavior treatment programs.
In general, anyone who does not pose a threat can visit a youth in the DJJ. Each facility has visitor guidelines regarding dress, allowable items, and number of visitors.
5. How Long Can a Youth Be Sentenced to DJF?
Before a youth is sent to DJJ the court must set the maximum term of confinement. It cannot be more than the time that an adult could receive for the same offense. The judge is also allowed to set a term below the adult maximum. There is no minimum term that must be imposed.5
At the juvenile disposition hearing, the court considers factors about the offense and the offender’s history. A ward sentenced for a non-WIC 707(b) crime must be discharged:
- after two years, OR
- at age 21, whichever occurs later.6
A ward committed for a WIC 707(b) offense (with one exception) must be discharged:
- after two years, OR
- at age 23, whichever occurs later.7
One exception: If the ward committed a crime that would be punishable by 7 years or more for an adult. It does not have to be a WIC 707(b) offense. In that case, the juvenile must be discharged:
- after two years, OR
- at age 25, whichever occurs later.
Please note: A youth may NOT be committed to DJJ if he or she is sentenced to 90 days or less.
6. Can a Commitment to DJF Be Changed or Modified?
Yes. The juvenile court has the authority to change or modify the conditions of wardship. For example, if a child’s needs are not being met at DJF a motion to modify the commitment should be filed. If the court finds that the minor is not benefiting from DJF commitment it can change its previous orders.8
7. Are Youths Put on Parole After Release From DJJ?
Yes. The Board of Juvenile Hearings (BJH), a department of the DJF:
- oversees wards,
- conducts initial case reviews,
- creates annual reviews,
- conducts DJF parole consideration hearings, AND
- conducts discharge hearings.
The BJH must review every new ward’s case within 45 days of commitment. It must also schedule a parole consideration date. The date could be one year or less for non-serious offenses. For the most serious offenses, including murder, it could be up to seven years.9
Every case must be reviewed at least once a year to determine whether existing orders should be changed or modified.
The Board of Juvenile Hearings also has the discretion to release a minor at any time when he or she appears rehabilitated.10 Youths released from DJF on parole are supervised by the sentencing court and the probation department.11
Call us for help…
If you or a loved one is a juvenile facing criminal charges, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group. We can provide a free consultation in office or by phone. You can call us 24/7 at (855) LAW-FIRM.
- Welfare & Institutions Code 731
- https://www.cdcr.ca.gov/juvenile-justice/; LADA Special Directive 20-09.
- Welfare & Institutions Code 1700
- Welfare & Institutions Code 733(a)
- In re A.R. (2018) 24 CA5th 1076, 1083
- Welfare & Institutions Code 607(a)
- Welfare & Institutions Code 607(g)(1)
- See Welfare & Institutions §§734, 779; In re John H. (1978) 21 Cal.3d. 18
- 15 California Code of Regulations 4951–4957
- In re Issac G. (1979) 93 Cal. App. 3d 917; see Welfare & Institutions Code 1766.
- See Welfare & Institutions Code 1766(b)(1), 1767.35