At its essence, the purpose of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative is to demonstrate that jurisdictions can safely reduce reliance on secure detention. We are also testing the hypothesis that detention reforms will equip juvenile justice systems with values, skills, and policies that will improve results in other components of the system. Our objective is to:
- Eliminate the inappropriate or unnecessary use of secure detention;
- Minimize re-arrest and failure-to-appear rates pending adjudication;
- Ensure appropriate conditions of confinement in secure facilities;
- Redirect public finances to sustain successful reforms; and
- Reduce racial and ethnic disparities.
JDAI sites pursue eight interrelated core strategies to accomplish these objectives:
- Collaboration between the major juvenile justice agencies, other governmental entities, and community organizations. Without collaboration, even well designed reforms are likely to flounder or be subverted. A formal structure within which to undertake joint planning and policymaking is essential.
- Use of accurate data, both to diagnose the system’s problems and proclivities and to assess the impact of various reforms, is critical. Without hard facts, myths and anecdotes will rule the system and preclude agreement on key aspects of policy and practice.
- Objective admissions criteria and instruments must be developed to replace subjective decision making at all points where choices to place children in secure custody are made.
- New or enhanced non-secure alternatives to detention must be implemented in order to increase the options available for arrested youth. These programs must be careful to target only youth who would otherwise be locked up. Whenever possible, they should be based in those neighborhoods where detention cases are concentrated and operated by local organizations.
- Case processing reforms must be introduced to expedite the flow of cases through the system. These changes reduce lengths of stay in custody, expand the availability of non-secure program slots, and ensure that interventions with youth are timely and appropriate.
- Special detention cases — youth in custody as a result of probation violations, writs and warrants, as well as those awaiting placement—must be re-examined and new practices implemented to minimize their presence in the secure facility
- Reducing racial disparities requires specific strategies (in addition to those listed above) aimed at eliminating bias and ensuring a level playing field for youth of color. Change in this arena also requires persistent, determined leadership because the sensitive nature of these discussions and changes frequently provoke defensiveness and avoidance.
- Improving conditions of confinement is most likely to occur when facilities are routinely inspected by knowledgeable individuals applying rigorous protocols and ambitious standards. Absent of this kind of consistent scrutiny, conditions in secure facilities are unlikely to improve and often will deteriorate.