An arrest can be traumatizing to anyone. The level of trauma is usually higher in children than in adults. That's why California's Department of Correction and Rehabilitation has set up a Division of Juvenile Justice to rehabilitate juvenile offenders and help them reintegrate into society. The Division of Juvenile Justice deals with the most severe juvenile cases.

Parents and children must know how the Division of Juvenile Justice works. It helps them understand the options that come with juvenile arrest and placement under the custody of this division. Simultaneously, you should involve a professional attorney to help you deeply understand various aspects of the Division of Juvenile Justice and how you can protect your child.

At the Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we are committed to providing the best legal representation to our clients. We have handled several juvenile cases and have learned how to effectively engage relevant authorities in the Division of Juvenile Justice to ensure that we achieve the best outcomes. Schedule an appointment with us and learn how we can help you. 

Details About the Division of Juvenile Justice in California

For many years, juvenile offenders who've committed serious offenses in California were sent to the California Youth Authority. However, in 2005, California Youth Authority (CYA) came under the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation control, leading to its new naming as the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).

DJJ aims to educate and treat young offenders until they are 25 years old. Placing a juvenile in a Division of Juvenile facility is the closest thing to placing an adult offender in prison.

The Purpose of California's Division of Juvenile Justice

According to DJJ's mission statement, they aim to provide change and growth opportunities to juvenile offenders by responding to their unique needs. They aim to achieve this through an effective educational approach and treatment to reduce recidivism and encourage quality lifestyles.

Education in California's Division of Justice Facilities

Legally, DJJ facilities must provide high school education to wards of the court without a diploma. Even so, students can stay out of class due to security and safety issues. Known gang associates also stay out of these classrooms or vocational programs for security reasons or rising tension of conflict.

The education program run in these facilities is referred to as "Trade Line" or "Education Corridor" that focuses on these institutions’ vocational training. Youth Correctional Officers are responsible for monitoring this Trade Line. The education program is also part of the California Department of Education.

How California's Division of Juvenile Facilities Are Run

Wards in DJJ facilities are locked in their cells for 23 hours a day on non-school days. These lockdowns help maintain order, especially with gang affiliation rather than punishment, although they have brought a lot of criticism.

On school days, wards participate in different vocational programs provided by the facilities. Many youths are assigned to paying jobs at the facilities they are held after completing their vocational training program. Some of the jobs include landscaping, janitorial work, and food preparation.

Wards are also assigned to specific programs that address their individual needs. These programs include mental health residential units, sexual behavior treatment, behavior treatment programs, and intensive behavioral treatment.

Visitors are allowed in these facilities, but only those who don't pose a threat to the youths. Every facility has established its visitation guidelines regarding allowable items, the number of visitors, and dressing. 

Qualification for Commitment to a DJJ Facility

Since 2012, youths are sent to DJJ correctional facility if they are wards of the court and:

  • Have been found guilty or admitted to a crime listed under WIC 707(b)
  • Are guilty of a sex offense specified under Penal Code 290.008(c)

Minors must be at least 11 years old to qualify for DJJ correction. Those sentenced to adult prison are transferred to an adult facility after attaining 18 years unless they have completed their sentence before turning 25.

Youths are assigned to the program based on their education needs, individual risks, treatment needs, maturity level, and age.

Length of DJJ Correctional Facility Sentences

The court usually sets the maximum term of confinement to youth before sending him or her to a DJJ correctional facility. The timeline that it provides cannot be more than an adult would receive for the same offense. This means that the judge can set a term that's below the maximum adult sentence. However, there is no minimum term that the court should impose.

The court usually decides about the commitment term based on several factors during the juvenile disposition hearing. Wards of court sentenced for non-WIC 707(b) crime should be discharged after two years or after attaining 21 years, whichever comes first.

Wards of court committed for WIC 707(b) offenses with one exception are discharged after two years or after attaining 23 years, whichever comes first. 

The only exception to WIC 707(b) Wards of the court commitment occurs when they are committed to a crime punishable by seven years or more as adults. In this case, the juvenile is discharged after two years or after attaining 25 years old, whichever occurs first.

Please note that youths cannot be committed to DJJ if sentenced to 90 days or less. 

Modification of DJJ Facilities' Conditions and Parole After Release from DJJ Facilities

Juvenile courts can change or modify wardship conditions. For instance, if the DJJ facility is not meeting a child's needs, his or her lawyer can file a motion to alter the commitment. If the court finds out that the youth isn't benefiting from the commitment, it can change its orders.

Youths can also be placed on parole after their release from the DJJ facility. The Board of Juvenile Hearings can decide to put the juvenile on parole after reviewing a ward's case within 45 days of commitment. Parole timeline can last for a year or less than a year for non-serious offenses. For severe crimes like murder, the timeline can last up to seven years.

Details About the Board of Juvenile Hearings

The Juvenile Hearing Board is a department of the DJJ  that:

  • Oversees the wards.
  • Conduct case review within forty-five days on the youth's progress.
  • Conduct DJJ parole hearings to decide whether a child should be released from the DJJ facility to county probation supervision.
  • Create annual reviews of the youth's progress.
  • Conduct discharge hearings to youths who've completed DJJ probation and have stayed in the community for at least 18 months.

Members of the Board include three commissioners and an executive member appointed by the Governor. These members should be confirmed by the administrative staff, service hearing officers, and the senate. The Board usually holds monthly public meetings that are open to the public.

How Juvenile Disposition Hearing Relate with DJJ

A disposition hearing is a phase in the juvenile court where the court decides whether the minor is guilty of committing the alleged crime or probation violation. At this stage, the judge decides on the disciplinary measures to impose on the minor. That's why it's akin to a sentencing hearing in adult court. 

The judge usually looks at the minor's age, the gravity of the offense, and the minor's delinquent history when determining the minor's sentence.

The disposition hearing can occur at the trial if the judge has enough information to make a sentencing decision during the trial phase. However, if the judge has to wait for the probation officer's social study or the minor's parent has to provide relevant material needed to portray the minor is better, he or she can postpone the disposition.

The judge can also postpone the disposition hearing if the youth needs a psychological evaluation. However, the judge cannot continue holding the disposition indefinitely. The disposition hearing must occur within ten days if the child is held in a juvenile hall or court.

There are several sentencing options at the disposition hearing. Commitment to the Division of Juvenile Justice is one of the sentencing options among others like:

  • Dismissal of the charges
  • Informal probation under the Welfare and Institution Code 725
  • Formal probation at home
  • Formal probation at a relative's home
  • Formal probation at a group home
  • Deferred entry of judgment under the W&I section 790

Crimes that Fall Under WIC 707(b)

Juvenile crimes can count as "strikes" under the California "Three Strikes" law when it's listed under the Welfare and Institution Code 707(b). They must meet the following qualifications:

  • Whether the minor is aged 16 years or older
  • Whether the minor has been made a ward of the court
  • Whether the crime committed by the minor is listed in WIC 707(b) but is a serious or violent felony
  • The court sustains a WIC (b) offenses in a petition

 Some of the crimes that fall under WIC 707(b) include the following:

  • Arson of an inhabited structure or causing significant bodily injury through your actions
  • Murder
  • Robbery
  • Rape with force, violence, or causing significant bodily injuries
  • Sodomy by force
  • Lewd or lascivious actions
  • Kidnapping by robbery, ransom, or with bodily harm
  • Oral copulation by force
  • Discharge of a firearm in an occupied or inhabited building
  • Violent felony on someone who is 60 years old or disabled
  • Engaging in a felony which constitutes a criminal gang enhancement

With the severity of the punishment that results from WIC 707(b) sentencing, minors have the chance to negotiate with the prosecutor through a plea bargain. However, the negotiation must be added or dismissed with the prosecutor's consent, similar to adult courts.

These negotiations can also include the judge. Minors can also have the same judge who took the plea bargain admission to determine their disposition.

How being a Ward of Court Related to DJJ

Youths can be committed to DJJ correctional facilities if they are wards of the court. Under the Welfare and Institution Code 725(b), minors can be sentenced to be wards of the court if they violate any law other than a curfew.

Once a child has been made a ward of the court, it means that the court will take the primary responsibility and control of the minor. The court might also decide to take the child away from the parent's custody if the court finds out that:

  • The parent is incapable of training, educating, or providing maintenance of the child.
  • The child has been on probation but has failed to reform
  • The minor's welfare requires the parent's or guardian's custody to be taken away from the

Wardship can last for a specific probation period or until further orders from the court. When the court is deciding on committing an award to the DJJ, it must consider whether the decision guarantees safety to the public, the importance of redressing injuries to victims and whether the decision is in the minor's best interest.

The court must also provide enough evidence demonstrating that the commitment will benefit the child and that placing the minor in a facility with lenient restriction is inappropriate and ineffective.  

How the California State changed the California Youth Authority to the Division of Juvenile Justice

The California Youth Authority was not the first set up to house minor offenders arrested for minor offenses. It was opened as a reform school and would often house violent gang members, violent offenders, repeat offenders, and sexual offenders. 

Over the past years, there have been many changes in how the state ran the California Youth Authority. The passing of Proposition 21 restricted prosecutors from asking the juvenile court judge permission to pursue criminal cases against a child in an adult court. Under these changes, juvenile courts would only prosecute children at the age of 14 or older in adult courts if they commit certain serious felonies.

These changes have brought along a drastic reduction of juveniles committed to the CYA. Minors were committed to serving their sentences in adult prison for lengthier sentences, including life imprisonment. Accordingly, CYA now has six correctional facilities and two youth forests, unlike the eleven locations and four youth forests it previously ran. The two Youth Conservation Camps include the Mountain (Pine Grove) and the S. Carraway Public Service and Fire Center in Ventura.  

Reasons for CYA Reforms

Many things have happened with the CYA, leading to the need to terminate this juvenile program. Every year CYA staff and children have been reported as victims of violent attacks at the CYA facilities.

Cases of murder, multiple wounding, and committing suicide have also been identified as reasons why CYA should be reformed. According to California Inspector General Mathew Cate's report on the Stark facility, he wrote that the facility's environment presented a conducive environment to suicide attempts and was potentially dangerous to its staff. The facility was later closed at the end of February 2010. 

More reports were also published about the conditions of these facilities over the years. Some of the findings of these reports are as follows:

  • Treatment of children like animals in a zoo
  • Improper care to children found with mental problems
  • Intolerable workload to the facilities' staff compared to the number of wards they're serving
  • Lack of specialized treatment beds for sex offender treatment
  • Lack of minimum required education for the juvenile offenders
  • Inadequate Individual Education Plan services for high school wards

 In 2002, reports of inhumane conditions and increasing abuse in the CYA facilities led to a degree of sweeping plans to reform this program. CYA was forced to adopt remedial strategies to better their services by providing meaningful educational opportunities, job training, and mental health treatment. 

To improve the CYA, a reorganization of the California correctional agencies led to the placement of the CYA under the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation under the new title Division of Justice. This happened in 2005.  

Further Reforms of the DJJ

The current California governor Gavin Newsom has signed a plan to rename the juvenile justice system and rebrand its purpose. He intends to halt new detention in the remaining two detention prisons in Stockton, a third in Ventura, and the Amador County firefighting camp. Specifically, these detention prisons include:

  • H Close youth correctional facility for males
  • A Chaderjian youth correctional facility for males
  • Ventura youth correctional facility for both male and females
  • The Pine Grove youth conservation camp for males

 Newsom proposes that California juvenile offenders be housed in a county-run juvenile detention camp and ranches until 18 years old. Afterward, they would be sent to a new program at Valley State Prison in Chowchilla for more vocational opportunities. He also proposes moving the DJJ from the Department of Correction to the Department of Health and Human Services. This proposal provides a middle-ground approach that keeps the system open to responding to advocating calls for changes.

Finally, the move to place juvenile offenders into county-run juvenile detention camps makes it possible to integrate these juveniles back into society once they complete the rehabilitation program. 

Alternative Sentencing to DJJ

There are several alternative sentencing options available in the juvenile delinquency systems. It's crucial to understand that most of these sentencing options do not consider minors who've committed crimes under WIC 707(b) but deal with less severe ones. This means that for youth to qualify for these sentences, he or she should first plead to a less severe crime during the plea bargaining process. These alternative sentences to DJJ are as follows:

Informal Probation

For cases that aren't serious, minors can be placed under informal probation under the Welfare and Institution Code 654. In this program, the minor must agree to the conditions provided for the informal supervision program. This includes participation in parenting, counseling, or education programs and obtaining care and treatment for drug abuse.

Failure to participate in the required program within sixty days might have a petition filed against the minor. You can make another petition anytime within six months of the probation period or ninety days after the informal probation.

Diversion Under the Welfare and Institution Code 654

Under the California welfare and institution code 654, juvenile courts can divert juvenile cases to probation before a petition is filed. If the alleged crime has been reduced to low-level offenses, an attorney will try to get a Section 654 diversion.

The probation officer usually formulates a plan that lasts for a maximum of six months, which includes counseling and education. The probation officer can still initiate a petition proceeding with the juvenile court if the minor fails to comply with the conditions that have been set forth. 

Diversion Under Welfare and Institution Code 725

The judge can also place a minor under a diversion under Welfare and Institution Code 725. The difference between W&I 725 and 654 is that it involves the filing of a petition, although it's placed on hold to give the minor a second chance.

In this case, minors don't have to agree to commit the alleged crimes as long as they comply with the probation conditions. These conditions include counseling for the minors and their parents, school attendance, possible drug testing, and payment of victim restitution. W&I 725 program usually lasts for six months.

Formal Probation at Camp and Homes

Minors can be sentenced to a formal probation camp or home if the court declares them as wards of the court. Sometimes the wards can serve their probation at their homes. They can also be assigned to a suitable placement like a group home or relative's home.

Minors have to comply with specific probation terms while in these camps or homes. This includes:

  • Observing curfew restrictions
  • Mandatory school attendance
  • Substance abuse counseling
  • Restitution
  • Community service
  • Avoid hanging around with certain people
  • Graffiti removal

Find a Orange County Criminal Attorney

The consequences of commitment in the Division of Juvenile Justice are harsh. That's why parents and guardians should maintain a juvenile attorney who can help their children petition for less severe sentencing options or dismiss their case. The Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm is a seasoned law firm that has dealt with numerous juvenile lawsuits over the past years. Contact us today at 714-740-7848 and let us help you protect your child's rights.