The Annie E. Casey Foundation: Helping vulnerable kids & families succeed

Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative

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JDAI Site Updates

Innovative Birmingham Policy to Reduce School-based Referrals

A JDAI-influenced protocol put in place in Jefferson County (Birmingham), Alabama, is stemming the flow of African American students referred to juvenile court for minor infractions.

In two years, Jefferson County Family Court received close to 1,000 complaints for school-based misdemeanors and fights. Almost 99 percent of the complaints were against African American youth.

"We knew that we had a problem that could only be solved by working closely with local educators, police and human services,” said Judge J. Brian Huff, the presiding judge in Jefferson County Family Court. “Two years ago, we invited stakeholders to the table to negotiate a collaborative strategy intended to eliminate minor referrals to court."

The negotiations resulted in redefined roles for schools, their resource officers and juvenile court. Educators assumed greater responsibility for responding to school-based conflicts, thereby avoiding the possibility of criminalizing students.

The three-step agreement, which was signed at a recent public ceremony, allows students two warnings, with appropriate interventions, before they are referred to juvenile court.

It is based on a policy developed by the JDAI site in Clayton County, Georgia, which reduced school-based court referrals by 60 percent.

Brian Huff, Presiding Judge, Jefferson County Family Court

"I am excited and proud of Jefferson County's collaborative effort to implement the school referral reduction model," said Clayton County Associate Judge Stephan Teske. "Brian Huff demonstrated the style of judicial leadership necessary to bring stakeholders together to agree to do what is right for youth. I am also impressed with the leadership of the schools and law enforcement to answer the call for change. I cannot help but feel a special bond between Clayton and Jefferson counties."

For more information contact Vanessa Jones, JDAI site coordinator, at

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