Facing an arrest or detention is an overwhelming and traumatizing experience, especially for minors unfamiliar with the criminal justice system. When an individual under eighteen years commits a crime, the juvenile justice system handles them, whose aim is to rehabilitate the minors and not punish them. If your child is found to have committed the offenses for which they are charged, the juvenile court imposes a variety of dispositions, including detention in the division of Juvenile Justice Facilities. Like adult prisons, DJJ centers have strict and rigid regulations.

It can be worrying and confusing to a parent whose child is faced with DJJ detention. Therefore, understanding how the DJJ system works will help you understand how to prevent it and what to expect if your child is in these facilities. Additionally, you will need to seek legal guidance for the minor as they navigate the juvenile justice system. At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we can accord your child the best legal guidance and representation to ensure a favorable outcome in their case. We serve clients battling juvenile delinquency charges in Riverside, CA.

Overview of the Division of Juvenile Justice System

The DJJ is a part of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation which focuses on treating, training, and educating minors who are found to have committed serious offenses in California. Crimes committed by juveniles often vary in sophistication and severity. Unlike in adult court, where the jury assesses a criminal case and comes back with a verdict, the judge is responsible for imposing juvenile dispositions. 

Most juvenile dispositions aim to rehabilitate minor offenders and educate them to be better members of society. Juvenile dispositions are handed out during the disposition hearing, and they vary based on the severity of the offenses and the minor’s criminal history. The Division of Juvenile detention is often designed for serious juvenile offenders.

DJJ centers are locked rehabilitation and correctional facilities that could have a similar impact to adult prison on your child. While the DJJ facilities are meant for individuals under eighteen years, it can provide rehabilitation for a minor until they turn twenty-five years old. There are many disposition options for juvenile offenders, including probation, deferred entry of judgment, and placement in foster care. Your child’s juvenile delinquency case does not have to end in confinement in the DJJ. With guidance from a skilled criminal lawyer, your child could be in other less damaging dispositions.

The main goal of placing minors in DJJ is to identify their needs and allow them to grow and change their behavior. The Division of Juvenile Justice achieves these goals by counseling, treatment, and education, all aimed at encouraging the child to adopt a better lifestyle, ensure community safety and make better choices.

A minor could be sent to the DJJ under the following circumstances:

  • The juvenile court commits the minor. Unless your child is transferred to adult court, commitment in the DJJ is the most severe consequence that accompanies a sustained juvenile petition in California.
  • A minor is tried in adult court and is placed in the DJJ detention facilities.
  • The juvenile is tried as an adult and sentenced to prison but orders the child to be housed in the DJJ. Often, minors charged and convicted in adult court and sent to DJJ can only remain in these facilities until they are eighteen years. If the minor is expected to complete their sentence by the time they are twenty five years, the court may order that they remain in the DJJ facilities.

Life of a Minor in DJJ

Commitment in the Division of Juvenile Justice is prolonged and severe. When the judge sustains a juvenile petition and orders your child to be placed in a DJJ detention center, they will undergo extensive treatment, counseling, and education. When a minor arrives at the DJJ center, they will undergo an assessment to determine the program that would best meet their rehabilitation needs. Some of the factors that are significant to this decision include:

  • The minor’s age. Since the DJJ facilities house minors from twelve to seventeen years, the programs that a twelve-year-old will undertake will not be similar to those of a seventeen-year-old offender.
  • The child’s educational needs
  • The child’s level of maturity
  • The minor’s treatment risks and needs
  • Severity and circumstances surrounding their delinquent acts.

While at the DJJ, all youths must attend school. When a child completes high school, they may be required to undertake college programs and vocational training. During their stay in DJJ detention, the juvenile might qualify for a paying job in departments like landscaping and food preparations. In addition to the general programs offered in these facilities, minors often undertake special programs which address their individual needs, including:

Sexual behavior treatment. Minors placed in the DJJ for sex-related offenses like rape or sodomy may be required to undergo this form of treatment.

  • Drug abuse treatment. Many juveniles end up in crime by using drugs or other illegal substances. An impaired person may be unable to comprehend the nature of their actions and thus end up in DJJ for criminal activity. If your child has a history of drug abuse or drug-related crime, they may undergo drug treatment and counseling.
  • Victim awareness activities. Offenses committed by juveniles vary in severity. While some are minor violations, a child could face charges for serious offenses like assault or murder. When your child is in the DJJ for an offense resulting in the death or injury of another person, a victim awareness activity may be necessary.
  • Anger management programs
  • Mental health treatment

Qualifications for Commitment in a DJJ Facility

The DJJ often receives individuals between the ages of twelve and twenty-five years. A minor in DJJ will be transferred to adult court as soon as they turn eighteen unless they are not done with counseling, treatment, or educational programs. However, after two years, moat juveniles are released from the DJJ detention center.

Sometimes, youth remain in the DJJ for their entire sentence even after twenty-five years. It is essential to understand that the DJJ only houses challenging juveniles. A child cannot be placed in this system for being truant or troublesome. Additionally, your child may not be eligible for placement in DJJ facilities under the following circumstances:

  • The minor faces a conviction for a violent offense that attracts a life sentence or a sentence that extends beyond the offender’s fifteenth birthday.
  • The minor faces a conviction for a direct-file crime.
  • The child is convicted for a serious felony committed when the minor was sixteen years or older.

Typically, the juvenile court judge orders your child’s placement in DJJ if the minor is a ward of the court and is found guilty of a sex offense or crime under WIC 707(b). Some of the common crimes that could prompt detention in a DJJ center include:


Robbery is prevalent with minors. Unfortunately, they fail to comprehend the severe nature of the consequences that accompany this offense. Under California PC 211, robbery involves taking property belonging to another person in their immediate presence using force or violence. If a minor breaks into another person’s house with an intent to steal their property by inflicting fear or injuries, they could face an arrest and charges for robbery in juvenile court.

A sustained juvenile petition following robbery charges in juvenile court could prompt the judge to place the offender in a Division of Juvenile Justice detention center. If your child faces robbery charges, you should not take the situation lightly. Seeking legal insight should be the first thing you do after learning of their arrest.


A crime of rape occurs when a person uses force, fraud, or threats to force another person into engaging in non-consensual sexual intercourse. All sex offenses are treated as crimes of moral turpitude. Therefore, a sustained juvenile petition for rape will result in the most severe form of punishment in the juvenile justice system, which is confident in a DJJ detention center.

Often minors commit the crime of rape against other younger children. During the adjudication hearing in juvenile court, the prosecution must prove that:

  • The juvenile was involved in the act of sexual at with another person
  • The intercourse was non-consensual
  • The minor accomplished the act using force, violence, or threat of bodily injury

When all the elements are proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the court may sustain the juvenile petition and send the youth to DJJ confinement. Additionally, a sustained juvenile petition for rape could result in a lifelong sex offender registration.


Since fire can result in serious destruction of property and death, California law treats arson as a serious felony. Under CPC 415, arson is defined as intentionally and maliciously burning property, land, or structure. The prosecution must prove that the minor started a fire in the structure or property at the adjudication hearing and their actions were intentional. A simple act like burring a piece of wood could attract criminal arson charges. When a judge sustains the petition for arson, the juvenile could be placed in the DJJ system. Additionally, your child may be required to register as an arsonist.


In most cases, minors charged with murder will be transferred to adult court risk facing a criminal conviction and prison times. However, there are times when a juvenile could be tried and sentenced in adult court but be housed in a DJJ facility until they turn eighteen years.

Duration of Confinement in the Division of Juvenile Justice

Before the judge orders the placement of a minor in a DJJ facility, the court comes up with a maximum time that the juvenile must spend in the detention center. Under California law, a minor cannot spend more time in DJJ detention than an adult sentenced to jail or prison for a similar charge. When determining the length of your child’s detention, the judge will consider factors like your child’s delinquency history and the severity of the charges.

If your child is placed in the DJJ for a non-WIC 707(b) offense, they will likely be released after two years or turn twenty-one years. If the minor was charged with committing a crime such as rape, robbery, or murder, you might expect them to be released when they attain twenty-one years or after serving two years. For minors who commit crimes that would warrant a sentence of more than seven years, they will remain in the DJJ until they are twenty-five years or after two years, whichever comes later.

After a juvenile is released from DJJ detention, they will be placed on parole under The Board of Juvenile Hearings. The BJH is responsible for:

  • Overseeing the minor
  • Creating annual reviews
  • Conducting discharge hearings
  • Conduct DJJ parole proceedings

Within forty-five days of confinement in the DJJ, the BJH will review the case and schedule parole considerations. Every year that your child spends in the DJJ facility, the Board of Juvenile Hearings will review the case to determine whether there is a need to modify the existing court orders.

Alternative Juvenile Dispositions in California

In addition to DJJ detention, there are several juvenile dispositions that the court could order your child to serve after a sustained juvenile petition. During the disposition hearing, which follows the trial, the judge will decide on the best course of action for the minor’s case based on the circumstances. Some of the disposition options that do not involve DJJ include:

Adult Jail

Juvenile offenders are handled differently from adults in California. After a sustained juvenile petition, detention at the DJJ is the most severe disposition that your child could face. However, there are cases where your child can be tried and convicted as an adult. If a minor between fourteen and seventeen years commits a serious felony offense, the juvenile court may seek to transfer them to adult court. The court will hold a fitness hearing before your child faces criminal charges as an adult in California.

A fitness hearing aims to determine whether a juvenile can benefit from the dispositions offered in juvenile court. Before the juvenile court approves a minor’s transfer to adult court, the judge often considers the following factors:

  • The level of criminal sophistication exhibited by the minor during the commission of the crime
  • The child’s criminal history
  • Whether or not your child can be rehabilitated before the juvenile jurisdiction expires
  • The success of previous attempts at rehabilitation
  • The severity of their alleged crimes

If your child is a repeat offender facing charges for a serious felony, they could be tried as an adult. A minor tried in court will face prison time and fines when convicted of the crime. If your child is ordered to pay court fines after a conviction, you will be financially responsible for the fines.

Formal Probation at Home or a Camp

If the juvenile court orders your child to be made a ward of the court, the minor could be sentenced to formal probation. A minor can serve formal probation at home or in a probation camp. The main goal of placing the minor in a camp is to:

  • Reintegrate the child into the society
  • Plan a reunification between the child and their family
  • Foster development of the child’s behavioral and social skills

Your child will receive mental health lessons, counseling, and educational services at a probation camp. Probation camp placement lasts between three to six months, depending on the individual circumstances of the minor’s case.

If the court determines that the environment at your home is conducive for the child’s rehabilitation, the minor could be required to serve their probation at home. While on probation, a juvenile delinquent must obey the following probation terms:

  • Mandatory school attendance
  • Curfew restrictions
  • Community service
  • Drug and alcohol counseling
  • Random drug testing
  • Avoid association with particular individuals.

Informal probation

When a minor’s case is not severe, they could qualify for diversion and informal probation under WIC 725. After the prosecutor files criminal charges against a minor in juvenile court, the charges will be put on hold, and the minor will not need to admit guilt. This gives the juvenile a second chance to rectify their delinquent conduct. Juvenile informal probation lasts for up to six months, and the common conditions for probation include curfew restrictions and school attendance.

A probation diversion under WIC 654 allows your child’s case to be diverted to probation before charges are filed. If the juvenile completes probation and adheres to all the terms imposed by the judge, their case will be dismissed.

Foster Care Placement

After a sustained juvenile petition, the court has the authority to make necessary adjustments in the child’s life. Under some circumstances, the judge could order your child to be removed from your home and placed in foster care. Foster care placement may be applicable when:

  • You are incapable of providing for the child’s maintenance and educational needs
  • Your child is a chronic truant
  • Your home environment is not conducive for the rehabilitation of the minor their wellness will necessitate the removal.

Based on an assessment done by the probation officer, your child could be placed in a group home, foster family, or with suitable extended family members.

Differed Entry of Judgment

DEJ is another sentencing option that your child could receive after a sustained juvenile petition in California. The DEJ requires that the minor admits guilt to the allegations and serves the DEJ program in exchange for a dismissal of the charges. Often DEJ lasts for not more than one year and is imposed on first-time offenders facing charges for less severe offenses.

If your child faces the possibility of confinement in DJJ detention, a skilled criminal attorney can help guide them through the case to ensure a less severe disposition.

Juvenile Appeal

Like adult defendants, a juvenile delinquent whose petition is sustained has a right to appeal the juvenile court’s decision. Placement in a DJJ detention can take a toll on your child emotionally. All children need to spend time with their families to develop normally. If you are not satisfied with the court’s decision to place your child in DJJ, your child can appeal the case. Often, appeals for juvenile cases are based on legal mistakes made during prosecution, discontentment with the case outcome, or a disregard of the child’s rights in the case.

During an arrest and process leading up to confinement in the DJJ detention center, a juvenile has the following rights:

  • A right to only be arrested when there is a probable cause for an arrest
  • A right to be informed of their charges after the arrest
  • A right to legal representation
  • A right to have their charges proven beyond a reasonable doubt before facing a juvenile disposition

A violation of one of these rights could be a basis for appealing the decision of the court to place the minor in DJJ. When appealing a juvenile case in California, the minor must file a notice of appeal within sixty days of the judge’s order. In some cases, your child’s attorney could advise you to appeal the case when additional evidence in favor of your child has been uncovered.

If the appeal is successful, the judge could withdraw the DJJ disposition and impose a lesser punishment like probation or deferred entry of judgment. If the additional evidence you discover can prove that your child did not commit the alleged crimes, the charges may be dropped.

Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Although the juvenile court is more lenient to offenders than the adult court, a sustained juvenile petition could have serious consequences such as placement in DJJ detention. For the longest time, placement in a DJJ detention center has been one of the most serious forms of juvenile disposition. Spending time in the detention center is not only traumatizing, but it takes the child’s time with family away. Therefore, you must contact a knowledgeable criminal attorney as soon as you learn of your child’s arrest.

A skilled criminal attorney may convince the court to dismiss the juvenile care or reduce the charge to a delinquent act that does not require confinement in a DJJ detention center. At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we understand the stress that accompanies juvenile arrests and the possibility that a serious disposition like DJJ will impact our child’s life. Our group of top-notch attorneys provides legal guidance and representation your child needs to fight juvenile cases in Riverside, CA. Call us today at 951-946-6366.