A Guide to California’s Division of Juvenile Justice

A Guide To California's Division of Juvenile JusticeWhen California courts convict minors of criminal charges, the court may sentence them to the detention and rehabilitation system known as the Division of Juvenile Justice or DJJ. The DJJ is part of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. If your child is facing incarceration, it can help to learn as much as possible about this system as they serve their sentences. 

What is the Division of Juvenile Justice in California? 

Before 2005, judges sent juvenile offenders to the California Youth Authority or CYA. The CYA dealt with the worst juvenile offenders. In 2005, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation took control of the CYA. The CYA is now the Division of Juvenile Justice or DJJ.

The DJJ is the closest facility that California has to an adult jail for minors and young adults. Less than 1,000 youthful offenders are sent to DJJ facilities each year. The facilities house youthful offenders, but the DJJ provides treatment and education to the youth offenders to rehabilitate them before their release date.

Youthful offenders up to 25 years of age can be sentenced to a DJJ facility. 

What Crimes Can Result in Incarceration at a Division of Juvenile Justice Facility?

Youthful offenders are assigned to the DJJ program based on their age, educational needs, individual risks, treatment needs, and maturity level. 

A minor or youthful offender can be sent to a DJJ facility if:

  • The offender is a ward of the court AND
  • The most recent offense admitted by the offender or found true is listed in WIC 707(b) OR
  • A sex offense under Penal Code §290.008(c) is the most recent offense committed by the youthful offender

Examples of offenses under the above categories that could qualify for DFF include, but are not limited to:

  • Murder
  • Arson
  • Robbery
  • Rape
  • Kidnapping for ransom
  • Assault with a firearm
  • Carjacking while armed with a deadly or dangerous weapon

There are many more offenses listed in the two statutes that could result in a sentence to the DJJ. 

Minors as young as 11 years old can be placed in a DJJ facility. When the youth offenders turn 18 years old, they are transferred to an adult prison unless they can complete their sentence before turning 25 years old. While at a DJJ facility, the offenders must take advantage of the Division’s programs to remain at the facility. 

What is the Maximum Sentence for a Minor Sentenced to the Division of Juvenile Justice?

Judges consider the crime committed, the youth’s history, and other relevant factors when sentencing a minor to a DJJ facility. The sentence imposed cannot be longer than the maximum sentence imposed on an adult for the same crime. However, there is no required minimum term, and the judge can set a term for less time than an adult would receive for a conviction. 

When the ward is sentenced for a WIC 707(b) offense, the offender must be released after two years or at 23 years old, whichever occurs later. However, if the youth offender committed a crime that would result in a sentence of 7 years or more for an adult, the offender is released after two years or at age 25, whichever occurs later. 

If a youth offender commits a crime other than a WIC 707(b) crime, the offender must be released after two years or at 21 years of age, whichever occurs later. An offender may not be committed to a DJJ facility if the offender’s sentence is 90 days or less for the offense.

What Facilities Are Under the Jurisdiction of the Division of Juvenile Justice?

There are three correctional facilities under the control of the Division of Juvenile Justice. The three correctional facilities are locked facilities intended to incarcerate the offenders housed in the facilities. One facility is in Camarillo, and two facilities are in Stockton. There is also a forestry camp in Pine Grove.

The purpose of a DJJ facility is not to punish a youthful offender. Instead, the goal is to provide offender treatment and training. Other goals include victim and community restoration. 

Youthful offenders arrive at a DJJ facility because of an order from the juvenile court. They may also be committed to a DJJ facility if they are tried as an adult and sentenced by a criminal court, or tried as an adult, sentenced to adult prison, but live in a DJJ facility. 

How Are Minors Treated During Their Incarceration?

They have a full schedule and must follow strict rules. They must attend school full-time and are often assigned paying jobs at the facility. If a youth completes high school, they may enter vocational training or college programs at the DJJ facility. 

Youthful offenders may also be required to participate in assigned programs. The programs are based on specific needs and issues that the offender needs to address. 

Examples of programs include:

  • Intensive behavior treatment
  • Sexual behavior treatment
  • Behavior treatment programs
  • Mental health residential units

Youth offenders may have visitors. Visitors to a DJJ facility must follow the facility guidelines for visitors and pose no threat to the facility or the residents. 

Can a Minor Be Released Early?

As with adult inmates, there are situations in which a youthful offender could be released early or transferred to another facility. The juvenile court has the authority to modify or change the order affecting the minor.

What Should I Do if My Child is Arrested?

Try not to panic. Encourage your child not to resist arrest and to remain calm. Tell your child not to say anything without an attorney in the room.

You may believe that you can “explain things,” and the police will let your child go home with you. However, that is not the case. If your child has been arrested, the police and the prosecutor already believe your child is guilty of a crime. Anything you say could make matters worse.

As of January 1, 2021, California Senate Bill 203 prohibits police officers from interrogating children 17 years of age and younger in their custody until after the minor consults with legal counsel. The minor cannot waive this requirement. If police officers violate this right, the judge could consider the violation when determining whether to admit the minor’s statements as evidence at trial. 

You need to hire a Los Angeles juvenile crimes lawyer immediately if law enforcement officers have your child in custody. An attorney can analyze the case and devise a plan to protect your child’s legal rights and best interests. 

Contact Our California Juvenile Crimes Attorney for a Free Consultation 

We understand you may not know who to trust or to turn to right now. Our legal team is here to help you through this challenging, frightening, and emotional situation. Contact our office now to schedule a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles.