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Division of Juvenile Justice

An arrest can be a traumatic and overwhelming experience, particularly for minors who don’t understand the California criminal process. Not only will it be overwhelming for your kid, but also you, the parent, irrespective of the offense they’re alleged to commit. And even though guilty minors are not punished as adults (with a few exceptions), they still face punishments known as dispositions. One of these consequences is being sent to the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) facilities. 

Understanding how the DJJ system works helps you know what to expect if your child is sent to these facilities and what you can do to prevent it. At Leah Legal, we have worked with many young offenders in Van Nuys and have an in-depth knowledge of how the juvenile justice system operates. Therefore, we can accord your child the best legal representation, enabling them to achieve the best possible outcome for their case. Please don’t hesitate to call us when your young one is in trouble with the law.

Understanding The California DJJ System

For several years, the worst young offenders in California were taken to the California Youth Authority (CYA). In 2005, the CYA started being controlled by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). CYA is today called the DJJ.

The DJJ provides treatment and education to juvenile wrongdoers up to 25 years old. Approximately 225,000 juveniles are placed under arrest in California every year. Of these, only less than seven hundred are taken to the DJJ. Being sent to a DJJ facility is similar to being taken to adult jail or prison under the juvenile criminal system.

DJJ facilities refer to locked institutions meant for serious young offenders. Currently, there are three of them and a forestry camp. Of these three, two are in Stockton, while the other is located in Camarillo. The camp is based in Pine Grove.

The primary reason for sending youths to DJJ facilities isn’t punishment. Instead, they’re sent there aiming to achieve victim restoration, offender treatment and training, and community restoration. There are three ways through which your child can be committed to any of the  DJJ facilities. They include if:

  1. A juvenile court’s judge commits him/her there.
  2. He/she is tried as a grownup, sent to adult jail/prison, but the court directs that a DJJ houses him/her.
  3. He/she is prosecuted as a grownup, and a criminal court commits him/her there.

When the judge is considering committing your child to a DJJ facility, he/she may order that the child enrolls for diagnostic study for ninety days. This study recommends treatment options to the court.

Crimes that Warrant DJJ Facility Sentencing Option

Your child can only be committed to one of the DJJ facilities if they are a ward of the court and:

  1. Their latest crime is a sexual offense that requires registration as a sex offender, including:
  • Indecent exposure
  • Incest
  • Child trafficking
  • Child pornography
  • Rape
  • Child molestation
  • Sodomy
  • Sexual battery
  • Murder
  • Assault with intent to commit rape or forced penetration
  • Lascivious and lewd acts with a minor
  • Oral copulation by force
  1. Their latest crime is specified under WIC 707(b), including:
  • Murder
  • Robbery
  • Arson causing significant bodily harm or arson of an inhabited building
  • Rape with violence, force, or threats of significant bodily injury
  • Sodomy by violence, force, or threats of substantial bodily harm
  • Attempted murder
  • Oral copulation by violence, force, or threats of substantial physical harm
  • Lascivious or lewd conduct on a minor below 14 years with violence, force, or threats of substantial bodily harm
  • Kidnapping for ransom, robbery purposes, sexual assault purposes, during a carjacking, or with bodily injury
  • Torture
  • Carjacking
  • Aggravated mayhem
  • Voluntary manslaughter
  • Assault using a destructive device or firearm or one accomplished through force likely to cause significant bodily injury.
  • Forcible sexual penetration
  • Drive-by-shooting
  • Discharging a gun in an occupied or inhabited building
  • The felony crime of dissuading or bribing a witness
  • Exploding a destructive device intending to commit murder
  • Escape using violence or force from a juvenile home, camp, hall, ranch, forestry camp after significant bodily harm is deliberately inflicted on a juvenile facility’s employee.
  • A crime described under PC 1203.9 against an individual over 60 years or disabled.
  • Manufacturing, selling, or compounding controlled substances listed under HSC 11055(e)

Your kid must be eleven years old or above for them to be committed to a DJJ facility. And if your child has been convicted as an adult prison, they will be moved to an adult prison upon reaching eighteen years old, except if they can serve all their prison term before turning twenty-five years old. They also have to make use of any offered program to avoid transfer to adult prison.

Juvenile offenders in DJJ facilities stay in housing units that resemble prison but are geared towards the offender’s age. The facility can accommodate juveniles up to 25 years old, but younger offenders are usually separated from older ones if possible.

Generally, a DJJ sentencing option is severe and lasts for an extended period. When your child arrives at the DJJ facility, they will be assessed and assigned to a course based on different criteria such as their maturity level, age, treatment needs, personal risk, educational needs, and the facts surrounding the underlying offense.

The child, as with all other offenders, has to go to school full-time. The state’s Department of Education accredits classes offered at these facilities. If they finish high school, they can enroll in vocational training and college programs that are offered. Most youths are also given jobs at these facilities from which they receive wages.  These jobs include janitorial work, food prep, landscaping, etc. They will also be assigned a Youth Correctional Counselor who monitors their behavior and progress.

Apart from the core courses, your child may also be enrolled in programs that address specific personal needs. They include intensive behavior treatment, sexual conduct treatment, behavior treatment programs, mental health management, Successfully Dressed program, anger management, victim awareness activities, and substance abuse treatment.

Generally, any person who is not a threat may visit an offender in the facility. Every facility has its visitor guidelines concerning the number of people who can enter at a time, permitted items, and dressing.

The Length of a DJJ Sentence

Before your kid is taken to a DJJ facility, the judge must establish the maximum confinement period. It can’t exceed the term that a grownup could face for a similar crime. The court is also permitted to impose a confinement time that’s less than the adult’s maximum. There’s no minimum confinement period that the court must order.

During the disposition hearing, the judge considers the offender’s criminal history and various factors surrounding the offense. A ward convicted of criminal misconduct not specified under WIC 707(b) has to be set free after 24 months or at the age of 21 years, whichever comes last.

A ward found guilty of a crime listed under WIC 707(b)(with only one exception) has to be released at the age of 23 years or after serving 24 months, whichever comes last. The one exception being referred to here is if the offender committed an offense whose consequences would include seven or more years in prison for a grownup. It doesn’t necessarily need to be an offense listed under WIC 707(b). In this case, the offender has to be released after 24 months or at his/her 25th  birthday, whichever happens last.

Note that your child might not go to a DJJ facility if they are sentenced to less than ninety days.

It is also worth noting that DJJ facilities only house challenging juveniles. They don’t house troublesome and truant youths against whom the prosecutor hasn’t filed charges for committing a crime. Other young offenders that the DJJ doesn’t accommodate are:

  • Minors convicted of a direct file crime
  • Those whose conviction is of a severe felony, which they committed when they were sixteen years or older
  • Those found guilty of a violent felony whose sentence is life in prison or the maximum prison term goes beyond their 25th

Juvenile Appeal

Young people, just like adults, can appeal the judge’s decision. Through their lawyer, your child could file a petition seeking that given orders and judgments by the juvenile court be overturned, including the judge’s decision to commit them to a DJJ facility. The appeal will be dependent on legal mistakes committed, discontent with the outcome of the case, and ignorance of the juvenile’s rights during the court process.

The child will bring a Notice of Appeal through his/her lawyer within sixty days after the disposition hearing or the day of the court’s order.

The arguments that the lawyer representing your kid could use in persuading the court to agree to the appeal include violation of the child’s legal rights or improper exclusion or inclusion of proof during the court process.  Under certain circumstances, the minor can ask the judge to set aside (change or cancel) the sentence because they have new evidence, or their situation has improved since the case started.

Commitment to a DJJ Facility Can be Modified or Changed

The court can modify or change the wardship conditions. For instance, if your child’s needs aren’t being satisfied at the facility, his/her lawyer can bring a motion seeking modification of the commitment. If the judge determines that the child isn’t benefiting from the facility, he/she can alter its prior orders.

Your Child Undergoes Parole Once They Are Released From the DJJ Facility

The BJH (Board of Juvenile Hearings, a subdivision of the DJJ carries out the following functions:

  • Holds discharge hearings
  • Creates yearly reviews
  • Oversees wards
  • Presides over DJJ parole consideration proceedings
  • Conducts case reviews

This board has to review the case of every new ward within forty-five days of their commitment. It also has to set a parole deliberation date, which could be not more than a year for non-severe crimes. For severe criminal misconducts, including murder, the date could be seven years. Each case should be reviewed annually, at the minimum, to establish whether existing orders ought to be modified or changed.

Additionally, the BJH has the authority to discharge a juvenile at any given time if they appear rehabilitated. The probation department and sentencing court supervise a minor released from a DJJ on parole. The board recommends specific conditions of supervision to these supervising bodies upon release on parole.

The board can recommend your child for release if he/she has completed all program goals. The juvenile court judge determines the length of a parole period and discharges from parole.

Other Sentencing Options

Commitment to a DJJ facility is just one form of punishment your kid could face for committing a crime. And as we mentioned, DJJ facilities are for those juvenile offenders who have committed a crime that requires sex offender registration or an offense specified under WIC 707(b). There are several other sentencing options available in the California juvenile delinquency system that your child can face. They are:

Formal Probation at Camp or Home

If a juvenile court orders that your child is made a ward of the court, it can sentence them to a probation term. At times wards may complete their sentence at home (although they’re wards of the court). In other cases, the judge sends the ward to a suitable placement in a group home or relative’s home.

Probation terms may include any action reasonably necessary for the minor’s rehabilitation, including:

  • Curfew restitutions.
  • Compulsory school attendance.
  • Community service.
  • Alcohol/drug abuse counseling.
  • Graffiti removal.
  • Not associating with particular people.

If your child needs a higher structure level, they can be committed to probation camp, where they can remain for a period ranging from three months to a year. Most camps resemble dormitories and have a structured daily schedule that involves treatment and education programs. A few others include fire/wilderness camps with emphasized firefighting and forestry training, family-style and military-style camps that focus on small-scale intensive treatment.  

Informal Probation

If your minor’s case isn’t severe, he or she may qualify for diversion and informal probation under W&I (Welfare & Institutions) 654 or W&I Sec. 725. Informal probation may be imposed in a first-time nonviolent crime like PC 594, vandalism, or PC 602, trespass.

  1. Informal Probation Under W&I Code 725

The judge decides whether to impose informal probation against your child. The difference between this and W&I Code 654 probation is that a petition will be filed here, but it’s placed on hold, so the juvenile has a second chance. The child won’t admit guilt, and provided he/she adheres to the probation conditions; the petition will be dismissed.

Generally, probation conditions include counseling for the child and their parents, curfew, and school attendance. Other conditions may include restitution and drug testing. Informal probation under W&I Code 725 lasts six months.

  1. Diversion and Informal Probation Under W&I Code 654

Under W&I code 654, your child’s case will be diverted to probation before petition filing occurs. In juvenile courts,  there are often cases that involve petty theft violations like shoplifting. Considering that these are minor crimes, juvenile defense lawyers will try convincing the judge to impose W&I Code 725 informal probation or W&I Code 654 diversion. This means your kid will evade a filing of charges, to begin with, or the charges against them will be dismissed if they complete probation.

To adjust the situation, which brings the child within court’s jurisdiction or creates the possibility that the kid will soon be within that jurisdiction, the probation officer develops a plan for the juvenile that can last not more than six months. Generally, the program includes counseling and education.

If the juvenile doesn’t perform well, the probation officer could still initiate formal petition proceedings with the juvenile court.

Deferred Entry of Judgment (DEJ)

Another sentencing option your child could be subject to is DEJ under W&I Code 790. DEJ requires that the child admits guilt to the petitioner's allegations, but results in charges being dismissed after completing the DEJ program. DEJ is imposed on first-time juvenile offenders that aren’t classified under WIC 707(b) crimes. It lasts for a period ranging from one to three years.

Find a Juvenile Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

Sending a minor to the DJJ can take a toll on them since a child needs to grow surrounded by their parents, family, and friends’ love. When your child is arrested in Van Nuys, CA, Leah Legal can help you fight to achieve the best possible outcome possible that does not entail being separated from you and the community.

We will build a solid defense strategy that may have your child’s case dismissed or their charges lowered, so they receive lenient punishments like probation and not being sent to a DJJ. Call us as soon as the arrest is made at 818-484-1100 to share the case facts, and we will start building a robust defense right away.