Dangerous COVID-19 surge infects 1 in 3 youth at DJJ
“I cannot begin to describe my daily anguish as a mother to know that my son is constantly isolated for hours a day. It is truly disheartening, worrisome and disappointing.”
- Parent of a youth at DJJ
Save the Date: Take Action on Wednesday (1/19)!
California is failing to keep youth safe amid a catastrophic COVID-19 outbreak at its Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). Join our statewide day of action to protect youth on Wednesday, January 19th! Stay tuned for more details, including a social media toolkit.
A dangerous open dormitory living unit at DJJ’s O.H. Close facility.
DJJ's COVID Crisis: Mass Outbreaks, Isolation, and Fear
DJJ, California’s notorious state-run youth correctional system, is in the midst of its third and largest COVID-19 outbreak. Since this outbreak began in mid-November, more than 250 youth have tested positive out of a population of approximately 650. That’s more than one in three youth falling ill in a matter of months. The pace of infection is accelerating, with more than 100 of these cases occurring in just the past week.
DJJ leaders have failed to learn from past outbreaks. They continue to house large numbers of youth in outdated and poorly ventilated living units. These include open dormitories where COVID-19 spreads most quickly.
Due to COVID-19, DJJ has confined most youth to their units with limited access to school and programming. Some are living in near isolation, spending much of the day alone in their cells. Youth aren’t able to visit with loved ones face-to-face. These conditions are hurting youths’ physical and mental health.
Staff are the likely source of this outbreak. As of January 11, only 70% of staff were vaccinated. Prior to the outbreak, staff routinely broke protocol by not wearing masks, even when interacting with youth, and not testing regularly.
Severe staff shortages are contributing to the crisis. Staff are sick, staying home, or leaving altogether due to the pandemic and DJJ’s impending closure. Governor Newsom acknowledged the crisis in this week’s budget: "DJJ is currently experiencing various challenges with regard to recruiting and retaining staff." An out-of-control COVID-19 outbreak only makes it harder to maintain safe staffing levels. Low staff numbers force DJJ to pack more youth into fewer living units, speeding up the virus’s transmission.
California must move quickly. We’ve been sounding the alarm for almost two years, yet state leaders have failed to meet our most critical demand: releasing youth. By failing to act, California puts youth at risk of infection and the lasting psychological harm of isolation.
Stand with us. Join us in calling on Governor Newsom to begin sending youth home and out of harm’s way. Please lend your support by tweeting at, calling, and emailing the Governor on Wednesday, January 19th.