San Diego Juvenile Justice Project Offers New Opportunity

A yellow sign that says "San Diego" in black letteringSometimes a new space can offer you an entirely different perspective. That’s the hope for the youth of San Diego County who have found themselves on the wrong side of the law and the people who are charged with guarding and caring for them.

Over the past several years, San Diego County has been working on a plan to modernize its juvenile justice system, moving away from a tough-on-crime approach when it comes to youth detention. Instead, the county is hoping for the process to be less punitive and more therapeutic. This has been a multi-faceted effort that has involved forming a Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council and releasing a Juvenile Justice Realignment Plan in Aug. 2021.

However, perhaps the most important aspect of the process has been the multi-phase Juvenile Justice Center construction project. The first phase of that project – a new Youth Transition Campus – was completed and opened in the Kearny Mesa area of San Diego in early 2022. The completion of this facility represents an important step in the modernization of San Diego County’s Juvenile Justice Facility.

The Youth Transition Campus

The new San Diego County Youth Transition Campus replaces the old 1950s era facility, in the same Kearny Mesa location. The planning on this project dates way back to 2017, when San Diego County officials began working with community leaders and other stakeholders to promote more successful outcomes in the area of juvenile detention.

Balfour Beatty Construction worked with DLR Group to provide design-build work, with construction on the $112 million, 140,000 square foot facility beginning in November 2019. The design incorporated the approach of experts from both Georgetown’s Center for Juvenile Justice and the Council of Juvenile Justice Administration.

Construction on the project was completed in Jan. 2022 and staff and youth moved in during the following weeks. The facility stretches across 12 acres on the southern part of the county’s juvenile hall property. There are eight housing units that accommodate 96 beds total for people aged 12-20 who are beginning the process of re-integrating into the community. The rooms run along a tree-lined pathway that leads to an open courtyard, containing basketball and handball courts, gardens, an amphitheater, and a stage. The opposite side of the courtyard features a visitation and dining building that includes a modern culinary arts working kitchen, a career technical education building, and an indoor gym.

A New Approach to Juvenile Detention

While San Diego County’s new comprehensive strategy has an aim of keeping kids out of the juvenile justice system, some will inevitably end up there. This new facility and the shift in approach that it coincides with is focused on ensuring that these kids don’t end up back in detention and are able to adequately re-integrate into the community.

To accomplish this, the staff at these facilities use a more therapeutic and less punitive approach to offer trauma-informed services in an effort to rehabilitate young people who have gotten in trouble with the law. The facility was designed with a home-like atmosphere in mind. The living units – not cells – feature high wood beam ceilings and open areas with home-like finishes. Each of the eight units has its own mental health clinician.

What’s Next?

San Diego County’s Board of Supervisors approved a measure to invest $75 million on the second and third phases of the Youth Transition Center in May 2021. The new facility, which is currently under construction, will be capable of housing between 72 and 96 juveniles who are completing the court process. The project will feature many of the same amenities as the first building – 12-bed living units, classrooms, recreational facilities. However, it will also include a 15,000 square foot administration building for staff working with juvenile court, replacing the existing probation center.

The center will specialize in both restorative justice and trauma-informed care. The former refers to guiding the juveniles to help repair the harm caused by crime and the latter to the staff being informed of the child’s history of abuse and/or neglect that may have led to their criminal activity.

At Construction Protection Systems, we’re proud to have played a small part in development of the new San Diego County Juvenile Justice Center. Stay tuned for more updates from the makers of 1-2-3 Door Shield—the original, reusable door protection system.

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