DJJ Watch

New COVID-19 outbreak at one of California’s Youth Prisons—As Counties Resume Sending Kids Into the State’s Long-Broken System

Isolation cage at DJJ's N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility
Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

On March 24 of this year, twenty days after Governor Newsom declared his state of emergency regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, the governor issued an executive order to “suspend intake” of any new entrants into California’s prisons, in the hope of avoiding bringing the virus from the various county jails to the state’s 35 lock-ups.

As part of the executive order, Newsom also did the same thing for the state’s Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) — prison for kids — by prohibiting any new youth from being transferred from the counties to California’s juvenile system, consisting of three youth lock-ups, (plus one fire camp).

In the case of the youth prisons, turning off the pipeline paid off.

Over the past three months, although the virus has been exploding at a frightening rate in many of California’s adult prison facilities, there were zero instances of residents in the state’s youth facilities testing positive for COVID-19.

During that same period, according to the CDCR COVID database, a total of eight staff members have tested positive for coronavirus in the DJJ youth facilities.

But not kids.

What was closed now is open — with consequences

Then, on May 25 as California was proceeding with a multi-phased partial opening, the state’s youth facilities also reopened their doors and again began taking kids from the various counties.

And on June 14,  DJJ got its first positive testing young person.

According to emails WitnessLA has acquired, which were sent to staff from officials in the NA Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility (otherwise known as CHAD) as of now, three kids have tested positive during the period between June 14 and June 22.

June 22, 2020 letter to CHAD staff/WLA

On June 16, staff members were notified of the first kid to test positive. On June 18, staffers got a new notification about a second kid who was infected.

Then on June 22, memo number three arrived from Linda Bridges, the CHAD school superintendent, about the third kid who was testing positive.

According to DJJ officials, the positive testing youth are being housed separately in an on-site medical housing unit.

“The department is following isolation and quarantine protocols in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance to address COVID-19,” according to officials.

Since March 18, 2020, no volunteers have been allowed to enter DJJ to help with programming for youth, and family visitation is still suspended.

So, with most programming for youth all but vanished, no visits from family allowed, why unnecessarily open up to contagion by yanking kids out of county facilities.  What exactly is gained—especially when, in a few months, DJJ will be closing down altogether?

As readers may remember, on May 14, Governor Gavin Newsom announced a plan to shutter the state’s youth correctional system permanently.

This unexpected announcement, which was a part of the May revision of the Governor’s budget, proposed to stop taking any more youth into the DJJ system starting January 1, 2021—diverting them instead back to their individual counties.

Now, in the meantime, the state’s counties are sending youth to the state’s youth prisons.  And it appears that COVID-19 may be coming with some of them.

Since LA County sends more kids to DJJ than any other county, given all the other chronic problems that make the state’s youth facilities an unhealthy, non-rehabilitative or healing environment for any kid (as WLA and our writers have repeatedly reported), this is one more on a long list of reasons to turn the spigot off at our end — now not later.

For more on the issues surrounding the eventual closure of the DJJ, see WLA’s earlier stories on the matter here and here.

Note: The COVID numbers for the CDCR staff numbers are self-reported so tend to be less timely in the numbers for the CDCR facilities’ residents—adult or youth. The CDCR doesn’t show the positive-testing kids on its unusually well-designed Population COVID-19 Tracking database, but rather shows them here.


  • Maybe Newsom isn’t all that bad. Upper class liberal white ladies seem to love him. So maybe his strategy is to tell them what they want to hear, then quietly do what needs to be done. Hopefully this placates the middle aged ladies and keeps them from trying to live out their “radical chic” fantasies by backing up some really horrible ideas.

    As Richard Prior once said after visiting a state prison, “thank God we got penitentiaries.” I’m pretty sure that goes for state juvie lock ups too.

  • I just don’t get it. Civilized people in society become ill and some may die. Criminals need to be incarcerated, and just like their civilized counterparts in society, some will become ill and some may die. Why do the criminals seem to be your focus? Seriously, why?

  • I’m sure all of you remember your first shift out of the academy. Mine was at the Hall of Justice Jail downtown on EMs (night shift). I remember our old watch sergeant in briefing telling me I was gonna be working 1010 and the looks of schadenfreude (LOVE that word) on all the other deputies faces. It was the “Juvy” cells.

    They were…monsters and NO ONE wanted to work there. There were extremely dangerous, unpredictable and aggressive. Almost every interaction was an argument and almost every contact was a fight. They also didn’t LOOK like “kids,” as Celeste lovingly refers to them. Most were huge and looked much older than 18. Luckily, there weren’t many of them as only the worst of the worst were at HOJJ.

    Three factors that made them so dangerous (and is why a LOT of juveniles can be VERY dangerous).

    IQ….Most of them were just dumb. They had trouble with even the most basic instructions and could barely carry on a coherent conversation.

    High testosterone was another factor. In young men, it’s MUCH higher and is associated with aggression and the last factor which is:

    Impulse control….they didn’t have much of it and NEVER thought about the consequences of their actions.

    This is why “kids,” particularly males, can be SO dangerous. Here’s just one of the latest examples of what a “kid” can do:

  • Did I miss the Witness LA article regarding how the protests might increase Covid19 infections? How about the over 1000 deaths in nursing homes in LA County? I know, who cares if old people die. Who cares of protesters increase the spread and more old people die!

    Let’s not rent rooms in hotels for nursing home patients to spread them out and send in paramedics from the Fire Dept to help. Let’s use the Fire Depart to find the homeless housing and let the old people die. The threat to the homeless never materialized but the threat to nursing home patients was alway evident as a priority.

    You claim the muckraker mantle of Upton Sinclair but have ignored the deaths of tens of thousands who have died in nursing homes around the country and in LA during this pandemic. As you continue to ignore the obvious, you become less relevant.

  • Seeking, don’t be FOOLISH! Those are just OLD PEOPLE (who’ll die soon anyway). No self respecting liberal would EVER bring up how they’re working to save old people in nursing homes at a cocktail party on the West Side.

    Nooooo….What REALLY livens up a conversation, while sipping a Manhattan or smoking the stickiest of ickies, is to talk about your struggle to help those who are justice involved escape an antiquated system based on consequences for crimes instead of treatment and caring.

    Oh yeah…next to old people, the next LEAST glamorous topic to mention while at gallery openings in the Arts District are….victims. You’d be KICKED OUT just as sure as if you said, “Not ALL cops are bad.”

  • So the BOS just appointed Max Huntsman the interim Inspector General for Skilled Nursing Facilities. Probably 1500 deaths to late. Let’s see failure by public health, failure by the BOS, and failure by state licensing agencies, failure by County OEM and not one article by Witness LA. Muckrakers, what a joke!

  • LASD Apostle…..

    You give way to much credit to the contributors on this site to put them in the same category as Upton Sinclair. His expose was about the horrible working conditions endured by working men and women and how mis-treated these folks where, and unsanitary the conditions were in the meat packing plants. This was back at a time when even the ACLU would have been ready to fight the fight for workers rights. Now, this site and the ACLU only fight for criminals and people who enter the country illegally. How times have changed.

  • I have worked in Juvenile Probation with those deemed the “worst of the worst” for over 15 years – every week – and although I’ve met a few really broken kids – I’ve found the vast majority to be simply that – kids. Hurt people hurt people. Victims of foster care, physical abuse, sexual abuse, witnessing domestic violence that are victims of adults – things we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy – inflicted onto a child – where that pain/hate/anger moves from victim to victimizer. Every DSO in juvenile hall knows that it’s all about communication and respect. Even with the worst of the worst. If you know how to treat someone with respect and dignity and interact human to human, and remain consistent while holding accountability – these kids won’t fight on your shift and the vast majority will respect you. I’ve never had a problem. I’m sorry your couple nights were bad at the Hall of Justice – but what you were describing doesn’t not align with today’s reality (except for the lack impulse control – which is a norm for every kid, even our own).

  • Thank you. My son had a vehicle that he didn’t return so he got in trouble for a stolen vehicle. When he was in juvenile hall he had other kids pick on him which resulted in two fights and now because of that he is doing 3 1/2 years. Do you really think that will do him good mentally?or do you think it will do more harm?

  • My son was shot in the back on May 4th by 3 guys. The guy that planned and orchestrated the robbery was almost 18 . The shooter also was almost 18. They had a driver and a plan. The planner of the ambush brought a 45 caliber gun with a hollow point bullet. My son was a millimeter away from death. He fought hard for his life for months. The perpetrator was sentenced today to 3 years. His probation officer tried to get him Juvie fun camp. What he really needs is to be thrown in an adult prison. Newsom is going to let these dangerous criminals out when he closes juvenile detention centers. Of coarse, he has his security team to protect him! Who will protect you and your children?

  • I believe it will do him more harm. My son has been in DJJ for almost 2 years now. Its a horrible place. Youths shouldn’t be locked up period. They don’t give the youth enough food to eat and what they do get isn’t edible. The daily strip searches is very demeaning. The fights that happen often no one knows about. A human bite is very dangerous. All programs have stopped due to the COVID-19 virus. In my opinion the youths are not being rehabilitated. The quarantines are worse in DJJ. They put you in the hole. We all know what the hole is all about. I pray for my son numerous times a day along with the other youths. I pray for their safety, health, and especially their state of mind. The guards do not care. The juvenile system in the State of California is corrupt. All youths should be released due to the pandemic. Keeping them incarcerated will cause more harm to their mental state. My son went in normal. I pray he returns home to me normal. We are not their to protect them and no youth under the age of 18 should be able to make life changing decisions without a parents consent.

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