Division of Juvenile Justice

DJJ makes gender respect priority at Ventura Youth Correctional Facility

The Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) makes gender responsivity and self-advocacy a priority. Gender responsiveness refers to outcomes that demonstrate an understanding of gender roles; encourages equal participation and fair distribution of benefits through gender inclusiveness.

Gender responsivity and self-advocacy are ways in which we encourage all youth to represent their views and express their concerns within the confines of a rehabilitative setting.  That insight and healing can only take place if a youth feels safe and secure enough to address their trauma, focus, learn and thrive. 

At the Ventura Youth Correctional Facility, the only facility that houses both male and female youth, DJJ staff cultivate trauma informed strategies to facilitate rehabilitation. Of late, an emerging focus has been meaningfully enhancing services to the LGBTQ+ population. 

Appropriate pronouns used

For example, using appropriate pronouns when addressing our LGBTQ+ population is an important piece of gender responsiveness, a process whose efforts are appreciated by youth who identify as transgender.

“They (DJJ staff) are always respectful and on top of getting my pronouns right which are he, him and his, “said one transgender youth. “Another thing I have felt was very respectful is that they make sure with every given situation you feel comfortable and that you are treated equally.”

Another VYCF youth reinforced this view. “They ask us about what our preferences are, like who we want to search us when we are searched and they ask where we want to be housed in terms of gender.  I’m more comfortable wearing male clothing so I am able to.”

Ongoing administrative supervision, staff training and youth feedback simultaneously helps create greater awareness of the importance of consistently using gender-specific pronouns.

Youth leadership encouraged

Youth are encouraged to take a leadership role in self-advocacy and gender responsivity for themselves and their peers by accepting positions of responsibility throughout VYCF, which include Grievance Clerks, Student Council members, Youth Mentors, Youth Community Leaders and by attending gender responsive meetings. 

The philosophical underpinnings of DJJ’s Integrated Behavioral Treatment Model (IBTM) such as “responsivity” and emphasis on positive reinforcement to change negative behavior, drives treatment and supports a space of learning, training and evolution for both youth and staff.

“IBTM supports a therapeutic approach facilitating a healthy environment and robust rapport between youth and staff that is conducive to addressing salient issues impacting our population, including our LGBTQ+ youth,” said DJJ Director Heather Bowlds. 

Staff gets enhanced training

Enhanced training encompassing physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, teachers, on-going staff training and community outreach to religious volunteers, youth organizations, women’s groups and the LGBTQ+ Community is essential in achieving and maintaining gender responsivity and self-advocacy.

DJJ is rolling out a new training for staff in 2021 entitled “Working with LGBTI youth in DJJ Facilities.” This training was designed for DJJ by Just Detention International in partnership with Cal-CASA (the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault).

The training was funded partially through Cal OES. The three-hour training covers a variety of topics specifically tailored to address the needs of youth.

The training instills a supportive “culture of care” and ensures that staff are given the tools necessary to assist LGBTI youth prepare youth for a healthy transition back to the community.

“We’re excited and pleased that CPOST has approved this course curricula,” said Dr. Jonathan Yip, Associate Director of Mental Health. “This course will go a long way towards helping staff adapt to the needs of our most vulnerable youth.”

The course includes modules: Basics about LGBTI Youth; LGBTI Youth in Detention; PREA Standards and DJJ Policies around LGBTI Youth and; Working with LGBTI Youth.

Supporting gender responsivity is an effective means of ensuring amplification and inclusion of all voices in order to continually elevate and improve rehabilitation for all youth in DJJ’s care. 

Submitted by PIO Karette Fussell, PIO for Ventura Youth Correctional Facility