California has been in an ongoing struggle trying to figure out how to deal with overcrowding in prisons. The problems extend to the Division of Juvenile Justice, where the state’s most serious young offenders are held. For youth from Alameda County, being sent to one of the DJJ facilities is one of the worst alternatives. They’re spread out all over the state, which means it can be hard to keep family connections, and complaints of abuse and unsafe conditions have dogged the system for more than a decade.
A note to readers and listeners: only the first names of children are used in this story.
Christian is 15 years old. And like many teenagers, he’s made some mistakes. “Kinda stupid stuff,” he says. “Like vandalism. Not necessarily graffiti or anything. But yeah. Vandalism.”
And he got caught.
“It’s funny, one little incident can change everybody’s opinion of you,” Christian says. “Like, everybody. At school, like the teachers, from the students, to your family and stuff. But I try not to look at it as a negative or anything.”