The Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections (ADJC) is a relatively new agency, but its historic roots run deep. It is a Department that in 1997 completed an ambitious reform effort. Today, ADJC is embarking on a new round of reforms in response to concerns raised by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department. These reforms will include a number of changes designed to improve safety and security, to significantly improve ADJC's ability to manage suicidal risk, and to improve services to youth needing special education or other accommodations.

ADJC's roots reach back to 1901, elevan years before Arizona achieved statehood, when a Territorial Industrial School was established in Benson. This institution was given jurisdiction over any child between the ages of 8 and 16 who was convicted of an offense punishable by imprisonment. These "children" could be confined until the age of 21.

After statehood in 1912, the Superior Courts were given jurisdiction over dependent, neglected, incorrigible or delinquent children. The Benson site was found unsatisfactory, and a new school was opened at Fort Grant. A separate school for girls was opened in 1927. In 1940, a separate Juvenile Court for adjudication of neglected, dependent, incorrigible and delinquent children was established. In 1956, these courts were given broad power over juveniles accused of criminal violations.

The legal basis of juvenile justice since the 1890s has been the "Parens Patriae" doctrine. It is based upon the view that juvenile judges were society's parent figures - stern, yet benevolent dispensers of justice who acted in the best interest of a child, and administered social services where appropriate. Traditional legal due process was not a priority.

The turmoil of the 1960s swept over the juvenile justice system, along with so many other social institutions. A series of court decisions brought a measure of due process to juvenile proceedings. In 1968, the Arizona Department of Corrections was created, and was given jurisdiction over adults and juveniles. In 1967, the Arizona Youth Center was opened north of Tucson in the Catalina Mountains.

In 1972, the Arizona Girls School was opened at Adobe Mountain north of Phoenix. The Fort Grant facility became an adult institution in 1974, and Adobe Mountain began to accommodate boys and girls. A 1974 federal mandate required Arizona to deinstitutionalize its status offender juveniles.

In 1975 the juvenile justice system experienced a serious tragedy when Officer Paul Rast, an ordained minister who dedicated his life to children and his community, was assaulted and killed by several juveniles at Adobe Mountain.

In 1979 an Arizona Supreme Court decision lowered the age of state jurisdiction to 18 from 21. By 1980, Arizona had 350 juvenile beds, and the Arizona Youth Center in Tucson was renamed the Catalina Mountain School to emphasize a change in philosophy. But the pendulum swung again during the 1980s. By 1986, Arizona's institutionalized population rose 99 percent. In 1988, Black Canyon Juvenile Institution, a facility for females, was opened adjacent to Adobe Mountain north of Phoenix.

The Department of Corrections maintained jurisdiction over adults and juveniles throughout this period. Administrative security and program staff were encouraged to transfer between adult and juvenile institutions.

On April 6, 1986, a juvenile incarcerated at Catalina Mountain, named Mathew Davey Johnson, filed a civil rights lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tucson that caused another swing in the pendulum. His lawsuit alleged unconstitutional conditions of confinement, naming Superintendent James Upchurch as a defendant. On July 27, 1987, the court made Johnson v. Upchurch a class-action lawsuit.

The result was a sweeping set of changes. On September 22, 1989, Governor Rose Mofford issued an Executive Order creating a Select Commission on Juvenile Corrections. In May, the Commission issued a report containing 42 recommendations for change, including an emphasis on education and a broad spectrum of programs to meet the diverse needs of juvenile offenders.

The Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections came into being on July 1, 1990 as a cabinet-level agency, and began meeting with a Task Force arising from the Select Commission to implement its recommendations under the supervision of its first director, Carol Hurtt.

In the spring of 1991 the Department was renamed the Department of Youth Treatment and Rehabilitation. Carol Hurtt resigned in August, 1991, and Eugene R. Moore, of the Department of Corrections was named interim director. A task force eventually selected John R. Arredondo, Director of Institutions for the Texas Youth Commission, as a permanent director.

On May 5, 1993, United States District Judge Richard M. Bilby signed a consent decree between the state and the plaintiffs in Johnson v. Upchurch. It resulted in 109 separate provisions that mandated reforms in treatment programs, health care, discipline, education, staffing ratios and population limits. A three-member panel of court monitors, known as the Committee of Consultants, was established to monitor compliance and report back to the court every six months on the Department's progress. The agreement set a May 5, 1997, deadline for compliance with all the provisions.

Director Arredondo resigned in January 1994, and Eugene R. Moore became permanent Director. In 1995, the agency's name was changed to the Department of Juvenile Corrections.

With the assistance of Deputy Director David A. Gaspar, Moore opened a new training academy, developed a nationally accredited education program and implemented dozens of specialized programs targeting chronic violence, substance abuse, sexual offenses and mental health problems.

All of this occurred against the backdrop of an initiative that dramatically changed Arizona's system of juvenile justice. In November, 1996, voters overwhelmingly approved a change to the state's Constitution that toughened the penalties for chronic violence by juvenile offenders, and required that juveniles charged with certain violent crimes be tried as adults.

Also in 1996, the Department began to evaluate the quality of its programs through an annual "Outcome Study" examining the number of youth who return to adult or juvenile correctional facilities. The most recent Outcome Study, completed in 2003, found that after three years 57 percent of ADJC youth had not returned to either the adult or the juvenile system. The three-year measure is significant, because a December 1997 study in the state of Washington found that 75 to 80 percent of the delinquency or criminal behavior that will occur in such a population of youth will occur within that initial three-year period.

Equally significant, according to the ADJC's most recent data, fewer than two of 10 youth were sentenced to adult prison within that three-year period. These results rank Arizona near the top when compared with comparable recidivism data from other states.

On May 5, 1997, Judge Bilby issued a written ruling that allowed the consent decree to expire. The ruling, Judge Bilby acknowledged, “returns control of the juvenile justice system to Arizona’s executive and judicial branches of government.”

In December, 1997, Director Moore resigned, and was replaced by David A. Gaspar, previously the Department’s Deputy Director. Under Mr. Gaspar’s direction, the Department continued the ambitious reform agenda that led to completion of Johnson v. Upchurch.

In March, 2000, the Department implemented a new plan for its four secure facilities. The Black Canyon secure facility north of Phoenix became an all-female facility, and special units for parole violators were opened, one serving boys, and one serving girls. These centers were designed to allow youth who were violating parole to be re-evaluated. Youth who commit new felony offenses return to secure facilities. Other youth go through a re-evaluation and a hearing process to determine whether to revoke their parole or adjust the terms of their parole.

During 2002-03 three separate youth committed suicide while in ADJC custody, which led to an investigation by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA). In a Jan. 31, 2004 letter to Gov. Janet Napolitano, the Justice Department said it found that “serious deficiencies” existed within ADJC facilities that needed to be addressed involving suicidal risks and other inadequacies.

In October, 2003, Mr. Gaspar retired, and was replaced by Director Michael Branham, a retired Chief of Police who also serves as Director of the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission. Interim Director Branham immediately launched an effort to sharpen ADJC’s focus on safety and security within its facilities and programs.

After a long and varied history, the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections stands poised and ready for a bright future of service and protection for the citizens of Arizona, while providing meaningful tools for change to the state's delinquent youth.