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Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative

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About Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative

Why Juvenile Detantion Reform Matters

The Casey Foundation launched Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) in 1992 to reverse the troubling trends in juvenile justice and demonstrate that juvenile detention and corrections populations could be substantially and safely reduced. Today, JDAI is part of the Foundation's Juvenile Justice Strategy Group, working with public agencies to implement innovative and effective reforms that improve the outcomes of children and youth who experience, or are at risk of entering, juvenile justice systems.

Troubling Trends in the Juvenile Justice System

Detention is a crucial early phase in the juvenile justice process. An estimated 400,000 young people every year are admitted to detention nationwide and approximately 26,000 are held on any given night. The sheer volume of youth affected demands our attention. 
Detention itself has a significant negative impact on delinquency cases and is associated with negative long-term life outcomes. Research has shown that detained youth are more likely to be formally charged, found delinquent, and committed to youth corrections facilities than similarly situated youngsters. They are also more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. Placement in locked detention - particularly if it leads to a lengthy period of correctional custody - interrupts the natural maturational process through which most young people grow out of delinquent behavior.

Detention also represents a significant cost to taxpayers - more than $1 billion per year nationwide. Though costs vary widely from region to region (depending on salary levels, programming, and services), average costs per bed have been estimated at $48,000 per year. The average cost to build, finance, and operate a single detention bed over its first 20 years is approximately $1.5 million per bed.

Detention populations over the past two decades have seen a dramatic worsening in the disproportionate representation of youth of color. In 1985, 43 percent of juvenile detainees nationwide were youth of color. That percentage grew to 56 percent in 1995 and 62 percent in 1999, rising to 69 percent in the most recent national count taken in 2006.

Less than one-fifth of the kids in detention are ever charged with serious violent crimes. Today, low-risk cases continue to be prevalent. Roughly 25 percent of all detained youth were confined for breaking probation rules. JDAI continues to be a catalyst for needed change, not only with detention populations, but within all areas of the juvenile justice system.

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