A lot has changed within California's juvenile delinquency system over the years. Beginning July 2023, the law required courts to transfer all young offenders detained in the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) to Secure Youth Treatment Facilities. The move aims to rehabilitate delinquent youths. Given the complexity of the law, you should take the legal matter seriously. It is irrespective of the nature of the alleged criminal activity; even a seemingly less severe crime can carry life-altering consequences, mainly if the case is mishandled. Hiring California Criminal Lawyer Group, an experienced Anaheim law firm, can significantly increase the chances of your child obtaining favorable case outcomes. We can collect and analyze evidence to develop legal strategies and guide your family throughout the legal process.

A Brief Overview of the California Division of Juvenile Justice

The California DJJ is a custody and rehabilitation system for underage offenders (wards) who have committed severe crimes. Previously, it was called the California Youth Authority (CYA) until 2005.

A small percentage of juveniles arrested in California annually were transferred to the DJJ as an alternative means of rehabilitation. Its mandate was to offer transformation and opportunities for growth to underage offenders aged 25 and below by catering to their rehabilitation needs. The DJJ did so through effective treatment and education to lower relapsing and promote better behavioral traits.

The legal term “ward” means the court has ordered and adjudged a minor who has broken any law other than a curfew. During the wardship, the court limits parental control. The court can take a child from their parent(s)’ physical custody if it believes the minor has been on probation but did not reform or their parents cannot offer education, training, and maintenance.

Learning in the DJJ Facilities

Young offenders without diplomas received high school education in DJJ facilities. However, students could remain out of class for safety and security reasons. Also, the court kept gang affiliates from physical education classes or vocational training to avoid conflict, tension, and violence.

How the DJJ Facilities Worked

In DJJ centers, wards were locked in cells for twenty-three hours daily on non-school days. The lockdowns maintained order, mainly with gang associates, instead of punishing them.

On learning days, wards engaged in different training programs the facilities offered. Several youths were assigned jobs at the DJJ facilities, where the delinquency system housed them upon completing their training programs. These paying jobs included food preparation, janitorial work, and landscaping.

The court also assigned wards to programs that catered to their personal needs. The programs could include sexual behavior, intensive behavioral, and mental health treatment.

Only visitors who posed no threat to the wards’s safety were permitted in the facilities. Each facility had guidelines on dressing, permitted items, and the number of allowed visitors.

Eligibility for Confinement to any California DJJ Correctional Facility

As of 2012, DJJ facilities have been receiving wards who are guilty of the following:

  • Sex offense as stated in PC 290.008 (c).
  • Sentenced for a criminal activity under Welfare and Institutions Code 707 (b).

Welfare and Institutions Code 707 (b) crimes include the following:

  • Rape.
  • Burglary.
  • Murder.
  • Torture.
  • Lewd conduct with a minor.
  • Arson.
  • Kidnapping for ransom or sexual assault.
  • Carjacking.
  • Oral copulation using force.
  • Discharge of a gun in an inhabited building.
  • Violent felony against a senior citizen over 60 or a person living with a disability.
  • Aggravated mayhem.
  • Sodomy with threats of great bodily harm.
  • Arson of an occupied building or causing great bodily harm by your actions.
  • Robbery.
  • Forcible sexual penetration.
  • Escaping from a county facility after deliberately inflicting great bodily injuries on a worker at the center.
  • Bribing a witness or dissuading them.
  • Selling, manufacturing, or compounding at least eight ounces of controlled substances.
  • Engaging in a felony where the child used a firearm.

Juveniles should have been under eleven to be eligible for DJJ correctional facility admission. A minor sentenced to adult jail was sent to an adult correctional facility upon turning 18, except when they completed their sentence before turning twenty-five.

DJJ facilities admitted youth to the training program according to their educational needs, treatment needs, personal risks, age, and maturity level.

Modification of Conditions and Parole from DJJ

The law allowed juvenile courts to change wardship terms. For instance, if the facility failed to meet a minor’s needs, your child’s attorney could petition the court to adjust the commitment. The juvenile court altered its orders if it found evidence that the commitment did not benefit the minor.

Sometimes, the court placed youths on parole following their discharge from the DJJ. The Board of Juvenile Hearings settled on placing the minor on parole following a case assessment 45 days after sentencing. The parole timeline for non-violent crimes took up to one year. For severe offenses like rape or murder, the period was a maximum of seven years.

Realignment of DJJ

In 2020, both the Legislature and the Governor agreed to close the DJJ and fund counties to permit them to satisfy the needs of juveniles previously committed to the DJJ in regional or local programs. In July 2023, minors in DJJ facilities were transferred to secure youth treatment facilities (SYTF). Every California county has at least one facility.

A SYFT commitment aims to offer rehabilitation and an enduring foundation that supports successful reentry into the community, emphasizing community and family connections with extended support during the release from the facility. 

According to California WIC 875, a SYTF should be a secure facility operated, accessed, or used by the county with a commitment to offer education, treatment, and programming to juveniles. The facility can be a stand-alone facility, like a facility operated under contract with the county, a probation camp, or a portion of an existing juvenile hall that offers treatment, education, or a program to juveniles.

The court can order a minor who is over 14 to be held in a SYTF if the ward meets the criteria below:

  • The juvenile above 14 was adjudicated and found to be a ward after committing a WIC 707(b) crime.
  • The adjudication is the latest crime for which the minor has been adjudicated.
  • The court has found that a less restrictive alternative disposition is unsuitable. When determining this, the judge will consider the recommendations of any agency or person designated to advise the court of the appropriate case disposition, including the probation officer and your defense counsel. The court will also consider the following factors:
    • The severity of the crime, including your child’s responsibility for the criminal activity, harm/damage suffered by alleged victims, and the minor’s conduct.
    • The minor’s prior delinquent history, including the success and efficacy of the court's previous attempts to rehabilitate the minor.
    • Whether the treatment, education, and programs offered in a SYFT can meet the ward’s security and treatment needs.
    • Whether ordering an alternative and less restrictive disposition can achieve community safety and rehabilitation goals.
    • Your child’s age, emotional and mental health, gender expression and identity, sexual orientation, developmental maturity, and special needs or disabilities affect the ward’s safety.

Your child’s rehabilitation plan will do the following:

  • Identify your baby’s needs associated with education, treatment, and development, like the child's unique needs linked to emotional health, disabilities, health, or gender-related needs.
  • Outline the programming, education, and treatment the minor will receive depending on their identified needs.
  • Reflect on principles of trauma-informed, evidence-based, and responsive care.
  • Your child and family can give input on the ward’s needs during identification. (The court will include your opinion in the rehabilitation plan.).

Within thirty days of ordering SYTF commitment, the probation department will present a rehabilitation plan that satisfies the requirements to the court for analysis and approval. Next, your defense lawyer and the prosecution can give input into the rehabilitation plan before the court approves it.

Duration of SYTF Commitment

The court sets the length of the commitment term for the youth before transferring them to a SYTF. The ordered period cannot exceed what an adult faces for a similar crime. The court can also set a sentence below the maximum adult sentence, but there are no minimum sentences the juvenile court can impose.

The judge decides the confinement period depending on several factors during the juvenile sentencing hearings. Wards placed in custody for California non-WIC 707(b) crimes must be released within two (2) years or upon attaining twenty-one years, whichever happens first.

Wards charged with Welfare and Institutions Code 707(b) crimes are discharged at the end of two (2) years or upon turning twenty-three, whichever occurs first.

One exemption to California WIC 707(b) juvenile custody happens when an offense carries a seven-year sentence or longer as an adult. In this case, the minor is released after two (2) years or upon reaching 25 years, whichever happens first.

Remember, the court cannot commit a youth to a SYTF if their sentence is below ninety days.

Progress Review Hearing

During the commitment term, the court should schedule a progress review hearing for your child after six months. The court will evaluate the minor’s progress based on the rehabilitation plan to determine whether it should modify the baseline confinement term. The court will consider the recommendations of:

  • Your attorney.
  • The probation official.
  • Educational or behavioral specialist with information on the juvenile’s progress.

At the end of the court hearing, the court can order your child to stay in custody for the remaining term or reduce the confinement time. The court can decide whether to alter the confinement term or assign your child to a less restrictive program.

Alternative Commitment to SYTF

There are several legal options for alternative sentencing to SYTF for a minor in California, including the following:

Informal Probation

The juvenile could qualify for informal probation under WIC 654 or WIC 725 for less severe cases.

Informal probation could be an option for first-time offenders for offenses involving no violence, like vandalism or trespass.

Welfare and Institutions Code 654 Diversion

Per this California Code, the case is sent to probation before filing a motion.

Your attorney can seek a Section 654 diversion program or informal probation based on Section 725 if the juvenile is charged with a minor offense like shoplifting. That means your child will avoid any criminal charges or have a successful dismissal.

The probation department creates a six-month plan for your juvenile child aimed at counseling and education.

If the ward does not make adequate progress, the officer supervising probation can still commence petition hearings with the court.

Informal Probation (WIC 725)

The judge decides whether to impose informal probation. A petition is filed but later deferred, so the juvenile has a fresh start.

The underage child does not have to admit guilt; the court will dismiss the case upon compliance with the terms of probation.

Probation terms include attending school, counseling the juvenile and their guardian, abiding by a curfew, random drug testing, and restitution.

Under WIC 725, the probation cannot exceed six months.

Deferred Judgment

An alternative option is delayed entry of judgment (DEJ), which requires the youth to confess their guilt over the accusations outlined in the petition. Upon completing the DEJ diversion program, the court will dismiss the case.

DEJ is an option for first-time California felonies that do not fall under Section 707(b) crimes. It takes between twelve (12) and thirty-six (36) months.

Formal Probation

The judge can impose a probation sentence if the court deems a youth a ward.

Young offenders can sometimes serve their probation at home, although they remain wards. Moreover, the court can assign the minor to the appropriate home, including level 14 homes for emotionally oppressed minors.

Probation conditions can consist of anything relevant to the minor’s rehabilitation, which can be the following:

  • Compulsory school attendance.
  • Counseling for substance abuse.
  • Curfew restrictions.
  • Keep away from specific individuals.
  • Removal of graffiti.
  • Community service.
  • Restitution.

The judge can send juveniles needing more monitoring to camps for three (3) months to one year. Camps are boarding facilities with a daily routine consisting of treatment and education.

California Juvenile Record Sealing

A juvenile record has all court orders, documents, and reports in a minor’s court files. It also contains other relevant documents relating to the juvenile criminal record found with the Department of Justice, law enforcement agencies, and the probation department.

The assumption is that juvenile records get destroyed upon reaching 18. In contrast, you must take the necessary measures to seal your criminal record from the general public database after becoming an adult.

The criminal records will no longer be publicly accessible and available if the judge grants your petition. The benefits of sealing your juvenile criminal record include protection against discrimination by prospective employers and landlords based on your failures as a youth.

With a sealed juvenile record, you can boldly answer or fill in any rental, school, or employment application that:

  • You have not previously faced an arrest.
  • There is no criminal history in your name.
  • You can answer under oath that you have no juvenile criminal record, and you will not bear any punishment for perjury.

Your juvenile criminal record becomes invisible once sealing takes effect. Sometimes, a court can retain a minor’s sealed record. In this scenario, the sealed record should be destroyed under the following circumstances:

  • When you attain 38.
  • If you were previously a ward of the court due to habitual disobedience, the judge should order the post-conviction relief after five (5) years.

When Can a Sealed Juvenile Record be Unsealed?

Although a sealed juvenile criminal record no longer exists in the public database, there are certain situations where sealed records are opened, including the following:

  • In a civil lawsuit (Resealing will occur after the case is resolved).
  • During a criminal trial, a prosecutor could order unsealing a juvenile record to divulge evidence needed to clear a person of guilt related to an alleged crime.
  • The Department of Motor Vehicles could permit insurance companies to evaluate juvenile criminal records to review the offender’s risk level and eligibility for insurance.

Juvenile Record Sealing Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible to seal your juvenile criminal record per W&I Code 781, you must have satisfied the following criteria:

  • You are 18 or older, and your juvenile case was terminated five years ago.
  • As an adult, you have no conviction for misdemeanor or felony crimes, like sex offenses, fraud, or drug-related offenses.
  • There are no impending civil suits related to your crimes as a minor.
  • You were fully rehabilitated according to the court’s rehabilitation program.

What to Do If Your Child is Facing California Juvenile Delinquency System

When your child violates a law, they are vulnerable to far-reaching consequences. The section below provides tips for parents on steps to take if their child is in legal trouble.

Retain a Juvenile Delinquency Defense Attorney

If your child is facing legal trouble, hiring a skilled defense lawyer can make all the difference in shaping their life trajectory and future. Some of the benefits of seeking legal representation are as follows:

  • Your lawyer will collect and review evidence and highlight their achievements to increase the chances of a favorable case outcome. They will try to prove that the minor is a victim of circumstances and did not plan to violate the law.
  • Protect your child’s rights — After hiring a lawyer, they will analyze your baby’s rights to ensure no police misconduct happened. They will speak with the minor to check whether the arresting police officer read Miranda rights before interrogating them or conducted an unlawful search. If the attorney believes there was a violation, they can bring a motion to dismiss the charges.

Do Not Argue with Law Enforcers

Law enforcement agencies are responsible for enforcing laws and responding to complaints of illegal behavior. Even if you disagree with officers or disapprove of their actions, confronting them can lead to unfavorable case outcomes for your baby. Instead, consult a compassionate and experienced defense attorney.

Support Your Child

While being angry with your child after their arrest can be tempting, offering continued support by writing letters or making frequent visits is wise. If you cannot make the scheduled visiting hours, request that the probation officer arrange another visit.

While in detention, if you notice changes in mood or behavior, please notify your defense lawyer. Counseling for your family and the child can help you navigate this overwhelming time.

Know Your Responsibilities and Rights

You are legally obligated to pay for restitution (compensation for damages and losses your child has caused). Failing to pay restitution deliberately because you do not want to pay the amount or believe it is too high can result in legal trouble. However, high payments could put a significant percentage of your income toward restitution, leaving little or no money to support your family. Your defense attorney can ensure the judge does not set restitution unfairly high and guide you on what to do if you cannot afford to pay the restitution.

The police should inform you once your child is arrested. They should also tell you where your baby is and their legal rights.

Your lawyer should help you understand your rights and obligations.

Find an Aggressive Juvenile Delinquency Defense Attorney Near Me

It is normal to feel overwhelmed when your child is charged with a crime and committed to a SYFF. Whether they acted impulsively, were influenced by peer pressure, were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or made poor decisions, the criminal charges can significantly affect their future. A fundamental parenting truth is that you will do everything possible to safeguard your child. We at the California Criminal Lawyer Group share that philosophy. We understand what you are going through and can help you take charge of the situation. We can answer all your questions and help you know your child’s legal options so you can make informed decisions at all steps. We can also review the prosecutor’s case to identify gaps that could support an acquittal or dismissal. Please contact our Anaheim legal office at 714-766-0965 to schedule your free consultation and discuss how our team can protect your child’s rights, interests, and future.