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DJJ News Briefs, Vol. 22 July 11, 2022

DJJ News Masthead Logo
DJJ News Masthead
  • Grads urged to keep making goals
  • Ventura youth awarded $14K in scholarships
  • DJJ Social Worker honored for academic excellence
  • Healing and life skills a focus for DJJ’s newest program
  • DJJ youth dominate USC Youth Writers Contest
  • VYCF raise $6,000 for victims of crime
  • OHC Victim’s Week fundraisers net $2500
  • Three questions with DJJ psychologists

DJJ Graduates urged to keep making goals

Mary B. Perry H.S. Commencement speaker Tarik Ross, Jr. addresses youth.
Mary B. Perry H.S. Commencement speaker Tarik Ross, Jr. addresses youth.

High school graduation is a momentous occasion, and usually one filled with friends and families. But for the youth at the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), the celebration occurred minus families for the third consecutive year due to Covid-19 precautions, but overall scored a net plus in achievement and personal satisfaction.

Approximately 60 DJJ youth received high school diplomas or GED’s in June ceremonies. The diplomas are granted by the California Education Authority, the fully accredited school district that encompasses all DJJ high schools; Johanna Boss and Chaderjian in Stockton; Pine Grove in Amador County and Mary B. Perry in Ventura County.

Class of ’22 grads wore caps and gowns and participated in a processional to the tune of “Pomp and Circumstance”. Chaderjian commencement speaker, school psychologist Dr. Jahmon Gibbs, noted the history of the song which he said was traditionally used in coronation of kings, and encouraged youth to feel the pride of that occasion, marking their educational journey with a musical coda.

Chaderjian H.S. school psychologist Dr. Jahmon Gibbs, addresses class of 2022.
Chaderjian H.S. school psychologist Dr. Jahmon Gibbs, addresses class of 2022.

“I’ve experienced it four times in my life,” said Dr. Gibbs. ‘In graduating high school, when I got my bachelor’s degree, my master’s and my doctorate. Each one was a coronation.”

Mary B. Perry commencement speaker Tarik Ross, Jr., program director of the Prison Education Project (PEP) which brings programs like Project Rebound, that connects and supports justice involved people with higher education opportunities, echoed the sentiment, urging youth to take advantage of the support that PEP offers to continue their educational journeys. 

Mary B. Perry principal Dr. Harry Obiako shared with the graduates principles of success drawn from inspirational speaker Brian Tracy on the power of potential; controlling emotions and keeping a good attitude; developing character; making goals; choosing positive influences and mentors; overcoming obstacles and making sound decisions.

Youth Kamryn M. received an associate degree from L.A. Mission College.
Youth Kamryn M. received an associate degree from L.A. Mission College.

It was a message taken to heart by DJJ youth Kamryn M. He received special mention at commencement ceremonies for earning an Associate Degree in Behavioral Science from L.A.Mission College. It was the first A.A. degree earned by a DJJ youth in a decade. 

Chaderjian valedictorian Yimi P. expessed to his peers the self knowledge of the impacts his negative choices have made, and encouraged them to use education to overcome obstacles.

Chaderjian H.S. valedictorian Yumi P. addresses his fellow classmates, teachers and staff.
Chaderjian H.S. valedictorian Yumi P. addresses his fellow classmates, teachers and staff.

“It costs a lot to be a shining light in a world of darkness,” Yumi declared to his fellow graduates. “To do the right thing, you have to go through many trials and difficulties. To be a responsible or respectful person, we must pass test of bravery and sincerity and today I tell you that education prepares us for all of it.”

Educational achievement is a hallmark of DJJ. More than 80 percent of DJJ youth are high school grads or have GEDs. Another 16 percent are currently enrolled in college courses offered by community colleges and San Francisco State University.   

Ventura youth are awarded academic scholarships

DJJ youth display their scholarship certificates, awarded by the Citizens Advisory Committee.
DJJ youth display their scholarship certificates, awarded by the Citizens Advisory Committee, a volunteer group that offers tutoring, mentoring and financial support for success upon reentry to the community.

By Karette Fussell, Supervising Case Work Specialist.

Pursuing higher education is a little more accessible for seven Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) youth at Ventura Youth Correctional Facility (VYCF).  Each youth was awarded an academic scholarship from the Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC ) on June 16.  The volunteer (CAC) organization awarded seven scholarships totaling $14 thousand dollars at ceremonies held at VYCF.

CAC raise funds year round to bring this scholarship opportunity to youth at VYCF. Linda McLaughin, President of CAC, explained youth are subjected to a rigorous vetting process which includes Submitting essay, maintaining good grades and exhibiting positive behavior.

Volunteers and stakeholders from surrounding communities, mostly in Ventura County, make up the membership of CAC. They also provide academic tutoring for VYCF youth and are supportive of events held at VYCF.

“Opportunities abound every day. They are all around you. Recognize them like you did when you applied for the opportunity to be awarded a scholarship and let tenacious determination be the driving force to achieve success.”

Maria harper, Superintendent, VYCF

What receiving an academic scholarship means

At award ceremonies, the youth accepted their awards and spoke about their future plans. Tamir W. shared plans to use his three thousand dollar scholarship to help obtain trucking certification. 

Jonathan M. spoke of how he comes from a family that struggles with generational incarceration but he is the first to be awarded an academic scholarship. His totals two thousand dollars. 

Antonio L. shared how shifting his “mentality” led him from being off track academically early on in his life, to achieving his high school diploma on time and now being awarded a two thousand dollar academic scholarship.    

Andrew F. talked of plans to pursue higher learning in psychology with his two thousand dollar award while Aujahn, D. shared he will be leaving the facility shortly and plans to attend a four-year university armed with an additional three thousand dollar scholarship.

‘Be resourceful, to see adversity as an opportunity to achieve success.”

Dennis Lack, CAC

Maria Harper, Superintendent of Ventura Youth Correctional Facility, congratulated scholarship recipients on this academic opportunity, “Opportunities abound every day. They are all around you. Recognize them like you did when you applied for the opportunity to be awarded a scholarship and let tenacious determination be the driving force to achieve success.”

Principal of Mary B. Perry High School at VYCF, Dr. Harry Obiako, emphasized the importance of “resilience” and how “the ability to bounce back in the face of adversity, will ensure a brighter future.” 

Dennis Laack from CAC challenged youth to, “be resourceful, to see adversity as an opportunity to achieve success; to stay in touch with CAC after DJJ closes to ensure access to their scholarship funds and to work hard to make a better future for themselves.” 

Most of the scholarship recipients were from a living unit where Kellin Mills is the Senior Youth Correctional Counselor.  SYCC Mills shared that despite growing up in a rough area in South Central Los Angeles, she achieved her academic goals against overwhelming odds and points out her Masters degree diploma affixed prominently on her office wall to remind youth on her cottage they too can achieve anything.

DJJ Social Worker honored for academic excellence

Parole Agent Desiree Butler recently graduated from CSU Northridge, with a Master’s degree in Social Work.
Parole Agent Desiree Butler recently graduated from CSU Northridge, with a Master’s degree in Social Work and was awarded the Jean E. Daniels Award for Leadership and Academic Excellence.

Social workers abound at Ventura Youth Correctional Facility (VYCF) and Parole Agent Desiree Butler recently joined the fold.  While working fulltime as a Parole Agent, Ms. Butler recently graduated from Cal State University Northridge, earning a Master’s degree in Social Work in two years while being awarded the Jean E. Daniels Award for Leadership and Academic Excellence. 

There are currently 10 peace officers armed with their Masters in Social Work degree that work in the capacity of Parole Agent, Treatment Team Supervisor, Casework Specialist, Supervising Casework Specialist, Parole Agent II, Parole Agent III and Assistant Superintendent at VYCF. 

The Masters in Social Work degree is requisite for the Casework Specialist position and has been a spring board, launching multiple careers at the Division of Juvenile Justice because of its approach which helps in analyzing and addressing complex problems of DJJ’s adolescent population. The myriad issues stem from untreated trauma, domestic violence, mental health problems, displacement, gang involvement, physical, psychological and sexual abuse, gender dysphoria, substance abuse, trafficking, neglect, abandonment, learning disorders and poverty. 

The desire to help others appears to be a shared characteristic among those possessing and pursing MSWs at VYCF and like PA Butler and Senior Youth Correctional Counselor, Carla Ayala, who is also working fulltime in pursuit of a Masters in Social Work.  PA Butler finds working with youthful offenders, “Very challenging, yet rewarding.”   Congratulations and welcome,  Desiree Butler!

DJJ youth dominate USC Youth Writers Contest

Logo for the University of Southern California Prison Education Project.
Logo for the University of Southern California Prison Education Project.

Three youth from the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) placed essays in the top ten of a national writing competition, the USC Systems Impacted Youth Writers Contest, sponsored by the USC Prison Education Project. One youth essay placed second, earning a substantial cash award and two others placed in the top ten, and will be published in an upcoming anthology of youth writing.

Youth Jordan W.’s submission, entitled “Today’s Lesson” was selected for second place, winning him $750 and ten copies of a chap book (small publication) containing all the winning essays. Youth Roco M.’s work, “Untitled”  and Jose M.’s piece “Education” were chosen to be among the top 10 notable entries and they will receive three copies of the book, 2022 Systems-Impacted Writers Anthology.

Theirs were among 60 submissions to the USC’s Systems-Impacted Youth Writers Contest facilitated by USC Prison Education Project (PEP).  Their work was reviewed by a panel of faculty and students at the University of Southern California. PEP said the work “spoke to the reviewers because of their authenticity and strong voice in conveying their unique life journey and reflection on education.” The essays advanced through three rounds of review.  Ultimately, Jordan W.’s was selected for second place and Roco M.s’ piece and  Jose M.’s was chosen to be among the top ten notable entries. 

Congratulations to our DJJ soon-to-be-published authors, whose words work to create healing and community restoration through growth and self reflection. The 2022 compendium has yet to be published.  To view essays from last year’s contest, go here

Healing and life skills a focus for graduates of DJJ’s newest program

A youth receives a certificate from staff at Amity Foundation.
A youth receives a certificate and praise from staff at Amity Foundation.

Graduation ceremonies were held on May 20th for 87 youth from the Division of Juvenile Justice who completed a 12 week skills course taught by staff of the Amity Foundation.  The program, entitled Seeking Safety, is an evidence-based treatment that addresses both substance use and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

DJJ Director Heather Bowlds was on hand to address and congratulate youth at N.A Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility and O.H. Close Youth Correctional facilities for their hard work and  dedication. While not strictly an academic course, the graduates were allowed to wear caps and gowns, as an acknowledgement of the completed workload.

DJJ Director Heather Bowlds addresses Amity course graduates at OH Close.
DJJ Director Heather Bowlds addresses Amity course graduates at OH Close on May 20, 2022.

“There are 25 coping skills taught in Seeking Safety.” Said Amity Foundation executive Wayne Garcia. “Each youth has been introduced to each of these skills and has accomplished identifying the coping skill that works best for their situation.”  

Some categories of skills include setting boundaries in relationships, practicing honesty, compassion, healing from anger, and recovery thinking. The main goal of these skills is to help the youth attain safety in their relationships, thinking, behavior, and emotions.

The course is already taught in adult institutions, and was made available to DJJ through a partnership with the Division of Rehabilitative Programs.

VYCF raise $6,000 for victims of crime

VYCF youth meet with staff from the Ventura County Homeless Shelter.
VYCF youth meet with staff from the Ventura County Homeless Shelter to bestow a gift of warmth with Beanie hats, handmade by DJJ youth.

The Ventura Youth Correctional Facility (VYCF) in Camarillo raised more than $6,000 to be divided among local groups that help and support victims of crimes and other needy individuals in Ventura County.

Last April, as part of National Crime Victim’s Rights Week (NCVRW) activities, Parole Agent Tracee Agee and psychologist Dr. Deborah Leong spearheaded a restorative justice project involving youth making over 250 beanie caps from a knot technique for men, women and children to keep their heads warm at the Ventura County Homeless shelter.  The staff from the shelter who work tirelessly to help those going through difficult times were extremely grateful to the youth of VYCF for this thoughtful, heart- warming donation.

Taco fundraisers were also held during NCVRW week. “Various fundraisers held over the past year by the VYCF National Crime Victims’ Rights Week Committee augmented VYCF’s Victim Fund to approximately $6000.00 which will be donated to local organizations that assist victims of crime,”  said Parole Agent and Victim Services Coordinator Emily Evans . The $6000.00 raised for Victims Week is being divided among the following organizations: 

  • Coalition for Family Harmony
  • Ventura County Family Justice Center Foundation, Inc.
  • Parents of Murdered Children-Ventura County Interface Children
  • Family Services
  • MICOP- Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project

Treatment interventions to facilitate healing include working on restorative justice projects throughout the year. These provide a creative and innovative way for youth to tap into their humanity and give back.  VYCF Staff and youth take part in fundraisers to give back to the community. 

OHC Victim’s Week Fundraisers Nets $2500

Two fundraisers held at O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility (OHC) netted more than $2500 to help victims of crime. The fundraisers were held in conjunction with National Crime Victim’s Rights Week, during the last week of April. Conflict Resolution Team member Jonathan Heerema and Senior Youth Correctional Counselor Wilford Francisco organized the events. One, an Asian fast food fundraiser, netted $1,732. The other, a doughnut fundraiser, raised $840. The funds will be deposited into the Victim’s Fund Account at OHC, the proceeds of which are traditionally donated to suitable San Joaquin County nonprofit organizations.

DJJ Replay: Three Questions with DJJ staff psychologists

May was Mental Health Professionals Month. To commemorate that we profiled  some CDCR mental health staff. The interviews were published CDCR wide in CDCR Week in Review. We reprint them here now, in case you missed them.

Three Questions with Mariana Dominguez

Staff Psychologist Mariana Dominguez
Staff Psychologist Mariana Dominguez

Tell me about your career at CDCR?

My CDCR career began in 2014, at California Medical Facility. I was able to collect post-doctoral hours. I was an Enhanced Outpatient Psychologist. I transferred to Duel Vocational Institution (DVI) in 2018. I loved DVI. It was a nice, small reception center and it was a good experience. I had a very supportive supervisor and was able to get licensed my first year.

After the DVI closure, I worked in a temporary assignment at CHCF. Then, I was offered a positon at DJJ. I wanted to get back to working with youth since I’d worked with juveniles at San Francisco Juvenile Hall. That was a great experience, since treatment was integrated into everything they do there. That was my first exposure to juvenile justice. 

I came to DJJ in March of 2021, a full year into COVID. DJJ is very different than the adult side. We have continued to work from home part of the time but we make sure that youth are covered and that there are enough staff onsite. Because of quarantines, we sometimes could only see youth on the hall since there isn’t a lot of office space.

What do you enjoy about your work at DJJ?

First and foremost, I really like and am impressed how involved Mental Health is at DJJ. I’m actually on a mental health unit. We attend weekly meetings with custody staff. We get to attend discharge consideration hearings and write mental health summaries. We talk about process and goals and what would benefit the youth. Our caseloads are bit smaller and I’m able to see a youth a couple of times a week. It’s very youth-centric, mental health focused, and that’s what I really like about it. 

As DJJ move through the process of Realignment to counties, what are your goals?

Regarding youth, I think for me just trying to be consistent, available and open to them. Making sure that they know that. Their anxiety is going up.  They don’t know what’s going to happen—they know they are going back to their counties—they just don’t know when that’s going to happen. So I’m just being a grounding force for them, helping them navigate that. Really trying to reinforce the idea of encouraging them to do well while they are at DJJ. I’m trying to help them be mindful of the decisions they are making, encouraging them to make better choices, and make good decisions.  We’re going to be here until we’re not.

For staff, I think we are all trying to figure out where we are going to land. We’re trying to be as supportive to each other as possible. We’re trying to be visible and available to each other. Among our staff, it’s a very tight knit group so we’re always checking in and talking to each other.

It helps that I’ve already gone through the anxiety of a closure process (DVI). I feel since I’ve been through it, I don’t feel as anxious as I did the first time. Sometimes my colleagues will ask me questions about aspects of the process. If I know, I’ll let them know. So it’s definitely helping me.

What brings you joy?

Spending time with my family. I’m very close with my mom. Spending time with friends. Taking care of my cat, Quincy. I also like music and movies. I just saw The Batman. I thought it was really good. A bit long. I also love going to Broadway shows and because I drive so much, listening to audio books.  

Three Questions with Division of Juvenile Justice Staff Psychologist Deborah Leong

DJJ  Staff Psychologist Deborah Leong
DJJ Staff Psychologist Deborah Leong

Deborah Leong has been working with juveniles at the California Youth Authority and Division of Juvenile Justice for more than 20 years, at seven facilities. She currently works at Ventura Youth Correctional Facility in Camarillo. She shared some insights on her career with us.

What do you like about your job? 

There’s a lot of variety. I was permitted to implement creative programs and activities within the job.  Working with youths is a live wire.  You have to be flexible, creative, a people person. The youths are typically spontaneous. Witty and smart.  So it helps to be fluid.

What creative projects were your favorites?

There was a project called Successfully Dressed.  It was a major collaboration with staff and administration to get youths to think about change differently. By getting a visual of themselves as ‘successfully dressed’ with professional attire, demeanor and values.  Youths would get a suit—a really nice suit—to wear during classes and at Board, and to take upon release.   We held 2 ½ hour classes for 16 sessions, and a graduation. There were more than 30 volunteer staff to teach each cycle. Youths learned facets of communication and presentation to get and keep the job. That was one creative project.

Another example was Clean Arms for Community. I had a lot of support for it, and many staff volunteered their Saturdays to staff a program of 15 youths at a time, while the youths talked about giving back, and what it meant for them to get their tattoos removed.  It was unstructured time, hanging out, letting kids talk about the future. And I think stuff like that, that unstructured time, is really impactful.  I’m really proud of that program, and it was featured in Vibe Magazine.

Other favorites are The Changing Lives Book Club at Ventura, which came out of a suggestion from a youth, and several community service projects.  There are other current activities like Toxic Masculinity discussions (another youth idea) to help break the cycle of recidivism. 

What’s your superpower?

Maybe to inspire staff to volunteer and donate their suits? Yeah, that may be one of my greatest accomplishments in encouraging so many staff to volunteer their weekends and evenings.  I’ve made some lifelong friends with some amazing staff volunteers.