Beyond the Badge, Division of Juvenile Justice

DJJ Staff Psychologist discusses mental health career

Staff Psychologist Mariana Dominguez has been with CDCR for eight years and currently works with youth at the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). Even before joining CDCR, her career has been focused on mental health treatment for the incarcerated population.

Tell us about your career at CDCR.

DJJ staff psychologist Mariana Dominguez
Mariana Dominguez

My CDCR career began in 2014 at California Medical Facility where I was able to collect post-doctoral hours. I was an Enhanced Outpatient Psychologist and transferred to Deuel 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 California Health Care Facility. Then, I was offered a position 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 with 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, but a bit long. I also love going to Broadway shows and because I drive so much, listening to audio books.

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