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.
As of July of 2023, the DJJ’s correctional facilities will be closed. Instead, youths will be housed in county-run “Secure Youth Treatment Facilities“.1 Juvenile justice advocates are pressing for a greater emphasis on rehabilitation over incarceration.
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 were the Division of Juvenile Justice Facilities?
- 3. What crimes qualify a minor for commitment to a secure youth treatment facility?
- 4. What is life like for a youth in a secure youth treatment facility?
- 5. How long can a youth be sentenced?
- 6. Can a commitment 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 DJJ facility was the closest thing to adult prison in the juvenile court system.
As of July of 2023, youths who were in DJJ facilities will be transferred to secure youth treatment facilities. Each of California’s 58 counties will have at least one such facility.
(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 were the Division of Juvenile Justice Facilities?
The Division of Juvenile Justice facilities were locked institutions intended for the most serious juvenile offenders. There were 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.
As of July of 2023, youths are instead detained in county-run secure youth treatment facilities.
The main purpose of detaining youth is not punishment. Instead, youth are sent to these facilities 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 secure youth treatment 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 secure youth treatment facility.
When the court is considering sending a youth to secure youth treatment facility, 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 secure youth treatment facility?
A youth may only be sent to a secure youth treatment facility if they have 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.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 a secure youth treatment facility.
Youths are assigned to a program based on:
- maturity level,
- educational needs,
- individual risk and treatment needs.
4. What is life like for a youth in a secure youth treatment facility?
In general, commitments to secure youth treatment facilities 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 facility where they live. Such jobs include:
- food prep, AND
- janitorial work.
In addition to the core programs, 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 a secure youth treatment facility. Each facility has visitor guidelines regarding dress, allowable items, and number of visitors.
5. How long can a youth be sentenced?
Before a youth is sent to a secure youth treatment facility, 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
- 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 a secure youth treatment facility if they are sentenced to 90 days or less.
6. Can a commitment 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 a secure youth treatment facility, a motion to modify the commitment should be filed. If the court finds that the minor is not benefiting from 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 DJJ:
- oversees wards,
- conducts initial case reviews,
- creates annual reviews,
- conducts 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 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. James Rainey, James Queally, California is closing its last youth prisons. Will what replaces them be worse? Los Angeles Times (June 2, 2023). James Queally, Rebecca Ellis, As L.A. County moves youths out of troubled juvenile halls, will anything change? Los Angeles Times (July 8, 2023).
- 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