About the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative
At the Annie E. Casey Foundation, we believe that all youth involved in the juvenile justice system should have opportunities to develop into healthy, productive adults as a result of policies, practices, and programs that maximize their chances for personal transformation, protect their legal rights, reduce their likelihood of unnecessary or inappropriate incarceration, and minimize the risks they pose to their communities.
To pursue this vision, we launched the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative in 1992. We focus on juvenile detention as a direct entry point for reform, given the numerous ways it shapes juvenile justice systems and the communities they impact.
National crowding crisis. Many cities and counties across the country face a crowding crisis in secure detention facilities, a result of inappropriate and unnecessary confinement of youth. In the decade before JDAI was launched, detention populations increased by more than 70 percent, even though there was no corresponding increase in juvenile crime. By the beginning of the 1990’s, two out of every three youth admitted to secure detention was entering a place that was crowded, that could not provide the kinds of custody and care that case law and professional standards require. Less than a third of youth in detention were charged with violent crimes. Indeed, as many youth were in detention for violating rules (e.g. technical probation violations) as were there for serious crimes. And, by 1995, almost two-thirds of detained youth were youth of color, a percentage that was disproportionate to both their percentage in the general population and their percentage of youth arrested.
Negative impact of secure detention. Research has shown that juvenile detention has critical, long-lasting consequences for court-involved youth. Youth who are detained are more likely than their counterparts to be formally charged, adjudicated and committed to an institution. Detention disrupts already tenuous connections in school, services and families. Over the long-haul, the detention experience negatively impacts educational and employment levels. JDAI believes that reforming the use of detention will also minimize the harmful, unintended effects.
Lack of public safety results. Despite its frequent use, detention is not improving public safety. In fact, detention is a stronger predictor of recidivism among juveniles than many well-known factors. Detention reform will help juvenile justice systems more accurately identify which youth really need to be confined to minimize risks to the community. It will also hold the system accountable for public safety results.
High cost of detention. Detention is a growing expense in most jurisdictions. In some places, the average cost to operate a detention bed exceeds $70,000 annually, and experts estimate that the cost of building, financing and operating a single bed over 20 years is approximately $1.5 million. Crowded conditions force many communities to face huge new public expenditures for a detention center at a time when tax revenues are decreasing relative to need.
Opportunity to improve the juvenile justice system as a whole. JDAI believes that the kinds of changes that a system would make to safely reduce reliance on detention would influence how other parts of the system operated. For example, if sites come to rely on data for making policy or program decisions, this newly found appetite for facts would surely spread to other functions. In effect, JDAI was designed based on the notion that detention reform was but an entryway to overall system change, a way to make juvenile justice systems smarter, fairer, more efficient and more effective.