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April 24, 2012 

Sue Lin Chong | (410) 223-2836 |

Juvenile Justice Reform Conference in Houston Promotes Safe and Effective Alternatives to Incarcerating Youth

Findings Show New Approaches Improve Public Safety, Save Tax Dollars

HOUSTON — In one of the largest-ever gatherings of leaders committed to reforming the nation’s juvenile justice system, more than 700 judges, prosecutors, probation managers, community activists and other individuals are kicking off a three-day conference in Houston to prevent the unnecessary incarceration of children.

The 19th Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) inter-site conference at the Westin Galleria builds on a reform movement that began 20 years ago, when the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation launched an effort to find better, safe and community-based options to locking up young people who get into trouble with the law.

Through JDAI, states and communities across the country are developing innovative approaches that prevent the secure confinement of youth and produce improved outcomes for them while keeping communities safe. Currently, 150 JDAI sites operate in 34 states and the District of Columbia. Those numbers are expected to expand to 200 sites in 39 states by the end of 2012.

In 2010, JDAI sites detained 42 percent fewer youth — approximately 2,400 — on an average day than they had prior to implementing approaches that include electronic monitoring, community monitoring, and day or evening reporting centers. The majority of the reduction in detention has been among youth of color. Moreover, sites achieved reductions while improving public safety and saving taxpayer dollars.

The conference intends to build on that momentum, providing opportunities for juvenile justice experts to share proven strategies that can spread to other states and communities. More than 40 workshops and plenary sessions will be held during the April 24-26 conference to showcase the latest tools and approaches that have been proven to work.

“After a century of failing our communities and our young people with an often unnecessary and now obsolete approach that propels kids down the road to recidivism, it is time for every state to use proven approaches that protect public safety and promote positive youth development,” said Bart Lubow, director of the Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Justice Strategy Group.

Studies have shown that youth prisons do not reduce future offending, waste taxpayer dollars and frequently expose youth to dangerous and abusive conditions. Successful reforms have reduced juvenile incarceration rates and are doing a better job serving young people and the public.

Last October, the Casey Foundation documented many of the juvenile justice system’s shortcomings in a report called “No Place for Kids: The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration,” which vividly illustrated that juvenile corrections facilities are dangerous, obsolete, wasteful and inadequate to solve societal problems. The report made six recommendations for improving outcomes for children, maintaining safe communities and saving taxpayer money.

The JDAI conference sessions focus on a wide range of juvenile justice topics. In addition to discussing how to safely reduce reliance on the secure detention of juveniles, sessions address racial and ethnic disparities, building community capacity, data informed decision making, judicial leadership in detention reform and deconstructing zero tolerance.

JDAI has concentrated primarily on preventing children from being unnecessarily detained before their cases are adjudicated. In 2012, the initiative will select two local sites and two states to examine safe alternatives to locking up young people after the disposition of their cases, and reducing incarceration of children after adjudication and disposition of their cases — the so-called “deep end” of the system. Lubow will describe deep-end reforms during his remarks on the state of the initiative on Wednesday, April 25.

The conference also features a display of poignant images of children in juvenile incarceration centers taken by photographer Richard Ross, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Ross is one of the speakers at the lunch plenary on Wednesday, an event keynoted by Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Casey Foundation.

View release as PDF.

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The Annie E. Casey Foundation is a private charitable organization, whose primary mission is to foster public policies, human-service reforms, and community supports that more effectively meet the needs of today’s vulnerable children and families. For more information, visit