The Casey Foundation's Investment in Juvenile Justice
Our vision: All children in the juvenile justice system should have the opportunity to grow into healthy, productive adults.
One of the groups of adolescents at greatest risk of failing to make successful transitions to adulthood are delinquent youth who end up in the “deep end” of the juvenile justice system, in its detention centers and other locked institutions. These youth come disproportionately from impoverished single-parent homes located in disinvested neighborhoods and have high rates of learning disabilities, mental health and substance abuse problems.
After lengthy involvement in the juvenile justice system, these kids will suffer lifetimes of low educational achievement and marginal attachment to the labor force. Society will pay vast sums to incarcerate many of them and to treat others (for drug addiction or other public health problems). The consequences of pulling youth deeply into the juvenile justice system, therefore, are dire and inter-generational.
The Foundation’s juvenile justice reform agenda is designed to improve the odds that delinquent youth can make successful transitions to adulthood, primarily by reforming juvenile justice system so that they lock up fewer youth, rely more on proven, family-focused interventions, and create opportunities for positive youth development.
To achieve our vision, we have focused our investments for over a decade on juvenile detention, a much-neglected but critical part of the system. Through these investments, we set out to achieve the following:
- minimize the likelihood that youth would be locked up unnecessarily or in poor conditions;
- improve the odds that youth would be placed in less confining alternatives within their communities;
- reduce racial disparities among the youth incarcerated;
- improve conditions of confinement for those in secure detention; and
- redirect public money toward improving the system.
In 1992, we launched the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), a multi-year initiative in which sites across the country created and tested new ways to establish smarter, fairer, more effective and efficient juvenile justice systems. These sites have achieved measurable results using strategies such as better screening tools, more reliance on data, collaboration between systems and communities, and effective alternatives to incarceration.
Many of these results are well documented. For example, while implementing JDAI, sites achieved the following:
- In Cook County, Illinois, the average detention population dropped by 37 percent and youth arrests decreased by more than half;
Multnomah County, Oregon, has decreased its detention population by two-thirds and decreased arrests by almost half; and
Bernalillo County, New Mexico, greatly reduced its average daily population in secure detention between 1999 and 2003, while seeing a 26 percent drop in juvenile crime.
At the Casey Foundation, we believe that children do well when their families do well, and families do better when they live in supportive neighborhoods. A critical part of this is establishing juvenile justice systems that play a role in helping delinquent youth, supporting families, and building communities.