DJJ Vol 10, May 1, 2020

Decorative image: DJJ News Masthead.

DJJ Newsbriefs: Vol 10, May 1, 2020

Skype session in progress at  VYCF
The first Skype visitation session at Ventura Youth Correctional Facility was held on on April 11.

DJJ Responds to COVID-19 emergency

Visiting Cancelled, Skype Visitation Installed

By Mike Sicilia

When it became obvious that the coronavirus was circulating in California, the Division of Juvenile Justice took immediate action to protect the health of youth, staff and community partners. 

Health screenings were instituted for everyone entering the facilities, and sanitization was increased throughout, while standing plans on preventing the spread of communicable diseases were dusted off and revised based on the latest guidance. On March 11, visitation was suspended throughout the adult correctional and juvenile systems to reduce the chance of the contagious virus from entering.

“We recognize the importance of visitation to the growth and rehabilitation of youth” said DJJ Acting Director Heather Bowlds, “so we immediately increased already free phone calls and access to free stamps so youth could write to loved ones.”

But more action was underway. Staff at headquarters and at the facilities began to brainstorm ways to improve communications. The answers lay in the use of technology, and a plan was made to implement virtual visitation via videoconferencing software.

“Internet based video communication is not new, but the speed in which information technology staff and DJJ staff integrated the needed hardware, software and training was unprecedented,” said Bowlds.

Skype visitation session at PGYCC
The first Skype visitation session at Ventura Youth Correctional Facility was held on on April 11.

A youth at PCYCC visits with his family via Skype.

At Pine Grove Fire Youth Conservation Camp, where in-person visits can be far and few between due to its remote location in the Amador County gold country foothills, a trial run took place the last weekend in March. The successful test helped staff iron out the few glitches inherent in any newly implemented technology.

Tiffany Haddish visits VYCF youth via Skype
Acres/Comedian Tiffany Haddish visits VYCF youth via Skype.
VYCF girl visiting with Tiffany Haddish via Skype.
VYCF girl visiting with Tiffany Haddish via Skype.

Comedian and actor Tiffany Haddish uses Skype for Business to converse with the girls of VYCF, who were observing social distancing practices.

The next week, more tests and plans to incorporate Skype for Business in place of regular weekend visiting hours got underway. The highlight was a “beta test” that included a virtual visit with film actor and comedian Tiffany Haddish. Ms. Haddish, a former justice involved youth and foster child, spoke to the girls of Ventura youth facility in a hilarious hour of comedy, straight talk, and questions originating from Ms. Haddish’s Los Angeles area home.

By Easter weekend, Skype for Business was up and running in all four DJJ facilities, and was heralded in a CDCR News ReleaseDirections for downloading the app were placed on living units and posted on the DJJ webpage in English and Spanish. Additionally, JPay, a fee based eMessages system, was installed at each facility in late April.

Kudos are due to the Enterprise Information Services (EIS) information technology. staff. The Information Security Office was consulted on best practices as laptops were prepared, software installed, staff trained, and a lot of troubleshooting was done to smoothen out the wrinkles to make the Skype visitation an overwhelming success.

“The EIS team are really the MVPs of the months of March and April,” said Bowlds. “Besides this epic achievement with Skype, they helped dozens of DJJ staff who were able to continue to work from home via telework, thus helping thwart the spread of the coronavirus.”

Skype visit at NCYCC
Youth enjoying a family visit via Skype at O.H. Close.

Youth enjoying a family visit via Skype at O.H. Close.

Ventura Superintendent Kenneth Fewer leads youth in moment of silence to commemorate National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.

Ventura Youth Reflect on Victimization Through Music and Dance

By Erika Mutchler, Parole Agent II

In an effort to contribute to National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, youth from Ventura Youth Correctional Facility utilized their talents to pay tribute to all of those affected by criminal activity. Youth created poster boards, poems, letters and essays. Fundraising occurred all week, and checks for $500 and $1500, respectively, were presented to the California Partnership to Fight Domestic Violence and the Parents of Murdered Children.

Perhaps most powerfully, a music video project was created from the ground up with victims in mind. The youth created beats, wrote lyrics and choreographed a dance.

With the assistance of Mary B. Perry’s High School’s Bruce McGowan Multi-Media Center, located on VYCF’s campus, the group recorded the songs and created the hip hop music videos.

Youth Koeppell McDade said he was honored to participate in a project that allowed him the opportunity to utilize his diverse talents to relay a message of apology and hope. Youth participated in discussions to truly understand the depth of their wrongdoings and were adamant about showing their efforts to acknowledge those behaviors.

“I wanted to be involved in this project because it is not every day you can send a personalized message to your victims,” said youth Jordan English. “This is me taking steps toward making amends and taking responsibility for my past.” This project is unique because it helped the youth know the meaning of empathy, sympathy and remorse.

Youth Paige Gadson said the project made her “think more deeply about the effect her actions have upon others.”

The participants created a group statement that encompasses their intent: “We hope to change the minds of those who think we don’t care while still understanding the hearts of families who have built resentment toward us. It is not easy to reconnect with an individual who you have wronged. We acknowledge the wrongs that we have done in our past. We are here to advocate against those wrongs now. That does not make us hypocrites. We are currently growing. We choose to not allow our past to invalidate our cudrrent mindset. This is our tribute to you.”

To watch the video, follow this link, based on your work assignment:

Ventura Youth Correctional Facility : \\vycffp\shared\VYCF-Public\DJJ Monthly Newsletter

Northern California Youth Correctional Center:  \\ncyccfp\ncycc-shared\DJJ Monthly Newsletter

Pine Grove Youth Conservation Camp:\\pgyccfp\JJICB\PG\Shared\DJJ Monthly Newsletter

Headquarters: \\accounts\jjicb\HQ\Shared\DJJHQ-Media\DJJ Monthly Newsletter

MM Poster Board

The winning poster was created by the youth in the Mira Mar living unit at VYCF.

Governor’s Executive Orders Impact DJJ Timelines, Activities

By Jenean Docter

On March 30, 2020, Governor Newsom signed Executive Order N-20-20, postponing DJJ’s planned July 1, 2020 transition from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) into the California Health and Human Services Agency (CHHS) until July 1, 2021. The action was taken in response to the need to redirect available resources towards the COVID-19 response. 

Two weeks later, on April 14, Governor Newsom signed Executive Order N-49-20, streamlining the re-entry process for DJJ youth. The order requires reentry and discharge hearings to be conducted remotely via video or teleconference, thus minimizing the potential for youth, staff, and others to be exposure to COVID-19. Notification given to county probation departments, the committing county court, and the youth’s legal counsel reduced from 60 to 30 days. This system allows reentry consideration hearings to occur at the DJJ facility where a youth is housed, eliminating the need for a youth to wait in jail in their committing county.

For more information on CDCR response to COVID-19, go to

DJJ specific COVID-19 response activities are listed on the DJJ homepage at 

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