Launched in the 1990s by the Annie E. Casey Foundation as a five-site demonstration project, the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) has steadily swept the country in recent years and is on track to become the standard of practice for how local justice systems nationwide handle the critical front end of the juvenile court process.
This report documents JDAI’s recent progress both in reforming juvenile detention practices nationwide and also in contributing to the larger movement for more comprehensive reforms in juvenile justice. Specifically, the report finds:
The JDAI model has proliferated rapidly in recent years, and now reaches a substantial swath of the U.S. youth population.
JDAI is now operating in 110 local jurisdictions in 27 states and the District of Columbia. Combined, these jurisdictions are home to 17 percent of the nation’s young people. In addition, another 18 percent of U.S. youth reside in states that have signed on as JDAI partners and have committed themselves to supporting local JDAI replication efforts. All told, 61 percent of U.S. youth reside in states where at least one locality is a JDAI site. The number of localities and states participating in JDAI continues to grow at a rapid rate.
Through JDAI, participating jurisdictions are sharply reducing reliance on secure detention for youth awaiting trial or pending placement to correctional programs.
Recently, the Casey Foundation conducted a one-day census of all active JDAI sites nationwide. Among the 78 sites reporting both current and pre-JDAI data, the total detention population on June 17, 2009, was 1,955 (or 35 percent) less than the average detention population in these jurisdictions prior to joining JDAI. In 24 sites, the detention population on June 17 was less than half of the average in the year prior to entering the JDAI project.
JDAI is reducing detention populations in ways that protect or enhance public safety.
JDAI model sites in Bernalillo County (Albuquerque), New Mexico, Multnomah County (Portland), Oregon, and Santa Cruz County, California, have seen juvenile arrests for serious violent offenses decline by 27 percent, 43 percent, and 46 percent, respectively—far better than the reduction in juvenile violent arrests nationwide in the same period. Most JDAI sites tracking juvenile crime rates also report improvements since their detention reform efforts began.
JDAI is also generating substantial savings for taxpayers by enabling participating jurisdictions to avoid costs for the construction and operation of secure detention facilities.
Twenty-seven JDAI sites have closed detention units or whole facilities as a result of smaller detention populations, reducing their detention capacity by a combined total of 978 beds. Also, JDAI has generated substantial taxpayer savings in a handful of other jurisdictions by eliminating the need for construction of new or expanded detention facilities.
Combating racial disparities is a core element of the JDAI model.
While JDAI sites do not report an overall average reduction in the proportion of detained youth of color, a handful of sites have substantially reduced racial/ethnic disparities in detention rates. Overall, JDAI jurisdictions detained 873 fewer youth of color in 2007 than they did prior to beginning JDAI—in sharp contrast to the continuing increases nationwide in the population of youth of color confined in detention. JDAI has played a crucial role in mobilizing local leadership to take on the DMC challenge, and sites across the nation are undertaking ambitious efforts to analyze and address racial disparities.
In addition to its direct impact on detention, JDAI is proving an effective catalyst for broader reforms in juvenile justice. For example, JDAI jurisdictions are sharply reducing the number of youth committed to state juvenile correctional facilities and other residential placements.
Across all sites reporting, total commitments to state custody were down by more than 2,000 in 2007 from the sites’ pre-JDAI levels—a decline of 23 percent. Indeed, the ability of JDAI sites to steer youth away from the deep end of the juvenile justice system is likely a prime reason for reduced juvenile offending rates in participating jurisdictions. In virtually every state nationwide, re-arrest and re-incarceration rates of youth released from juvenile corrections facilities are alarmingly high.
Many JDAI jurisdictions are also pursuing other important and long overdue juvenile justice reforms.
Some have developed new methods to engage and support the parents and families of court-involved youth. Many are applying effective techniques and strategies they learned in detention reform—ideas like objective decision-making tools, family conferencing, and community-based partnerships—in other phases of the juvenile court process.
As the following pages document, JDAI faces many challenges in the years to come. Nonetheless, JDAI stands out as an unusually influential systems-change initiative. In 2003, the longtime director of the National Juvenile Detention Association, Earl Dunlap, described JDAI as “the single greatest reform ever undertaken in juvenile justice programming.” Since then, the JDAI reform movement has continued to grow.