JDAI Expands Focus to “Deep End” of Juvenile System

Posted March 14, 2012, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Above: Richard Ross for Juvenile in Justice

After nearly 20 years of single-minded focus on reforming the front end of the juvenile justice process, the Annie E. Casey Foundation is planning an ambitious expansion of Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) to promote reforms in the "deep end" of the system. The aim will be to significantly, but safely, reduce commitments to youth corrections centers and other residential facilities through policy, practice, and program reforms at both the state and local levels.

This expanded focus on the dispositional end of the system is a natural extension of detention reform. State and local JDAI leaders will be integral participants in these deep end reform efforts, applying their collaborative data-driven approaches to figure out how to minimize youth incarceration (and other forms of out-of-home placements) while maximizing public safety and improving youth outcomes.

Recent results reports indicate that, on average, JDAI sites have already reduced commitments to state youth corrections by approximately one-third, primarily by minimizing the number of youth in secure detention at the time of disposition.

The deep end efforts will explore how much deeper these reductions can be—and how youth well-being and public safety outcomes can be improved—if JDAI sites intentionally adopt best practices related to dispositional decision-making and community-based alternatives. The work will focus upon four key strategies, each offering substantial opportunities for local and state site participation.

1. Raising public awareness

In October 2011, the Foundation released No Place for Kids: The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration, which reviewed 40 years of evidence and found that America’s heavy reliance on juvenile incarceration is misguided.

"Countless studies and decades of experience show that these institutions are both dangerous and ineffective," the report found.

The report also noted that, with little notice in the media, many state juvenile justice systems have already begun to sharply reduce the number of committed youth in correctional facilities and other residential placements.

From 1997 to 2007, the number of youth in correctional placements declined 24 percent nationwide. More than 50 youth corrections facilities were shut down just from 2007 through 2011.

These developments are certainly encouraging, but they do not yet reflect a clear national policy consensus in support of youth corrections reform, nor a genuine national reform movement among states and localities.

Therefore, one key element within JDAI’s expanded focus will be public education activities designed to: 1) increase awareness of the negative and expensive consequences of unnecessary and inappropriate reliance on confinement; 2) disseminate strategies and lessons learned regarding ways to safely and effectively reduce youth incarceration; and 3) build national momentum in support of policy and practice reforms that safely reduce incarceration, save taxpayer dollars, and improve youth outcomes.

Following up on No Place for Kids, the Foundation will issue a series of new publications to promote deep end reform. It will also work with key constituency organizations to educate policymakers and juvenile justice stakeholders, and it will develop a website to disseminate information and keep the field connected.

2. State-level policy reform

The "rules" regarding youth incarceration are set at the state level through laws, regulations, and funding approaches. Therefore, if deep end reforms are to take root, changing those state-determined rules will be essential.

That is why the Casey Foundation is pleased that the Pew Center on the States will be an important partner in this work. Over the past several years, Pew’s Public Safety Performance project has stimulated significant policy changes in the adult corrections systems of several states. Now, in partnership with Casey, Pew will expand its research and advocacy work into the juvenile justice arena.

Working together, Pew and Casey will identify and work closely with states to develop and implement new policy reforms to reduce correctional commitments and other out-of-home placements. Pew will take the lead in helping engage state leaders and policymakers in juvenile justice statutory reform. Casey will provide intensive technical assistance to support implementation of the identified reforms.

Key strategies for reform will likely include:

  • Limiting eligibility for out-of-home placement to the most serious and violent youth;
  • Eliminating counterproductive financial incentives that encourage local jurisdictions to commit youth to state custody; and
  • Investing in evidence-based, non-residential treatment methods and other promising treatment and supervision alternatives to residential placement.

These state-level reform efforts will begin in 2012 with two pilot states, and will expand to additional states in succeeding years. Over time, the Foundation hopes these efforts will result in a critical mass of states that have implemented major state-level policy reforms and substantially reduced reliance on commitments and out-of-home placements.

3. Opportunities for local JDAI sites

The Foundation will also begin working intensively on deep end reform efforts in two local JDAI sites, again adding additional sites in subsequent years. These initial sites will undertake comprehensive reforms and, if successful, serve as laboratories for innovation and replication to other sites in future years.

The JDAI jurisdictions chosen as pilot sites will commit their collaboratives to undertaking ambitious deep end reforms—and to recruiting new partners as needed to address deep end reform challenges effectively. Initial activities in the pilot sites will include:

  • Training on deep end fundamentals, which will be based on a set of focus areas analogous to the eight core strategies of JDAI;
  • A quantitative analysis of dispositional trends to determine the key drivers of out-of-home placement and opportunities for high-impact change;
  • A qualitative assessment of policies and practices that influence dispositional outcomes, including interviews and/or focus groups with system stakeholders;
  • Prioritization and planning to identify which policy, practice, and programmatic changes are most critical to implement in order to safely reduce post-dispositional placements; and
  • Drafting work plans to establish roles and responsibilities for implementing deep end reforms.

Based on these plans, participating sites will pursue several sets of overlapping and mutually reinforcing reforms, including:

  • Changing dispositional decision-making and related practices to ensure that youth are not committed or placed for misdemeanors or other low-level offenses;
  • Revising probation practices to enhance effectiveness and limit correctional placements stemming from violations; and
  • Expanding and improving non-residential treatment and rehabilitation options, including evidence-based treatment modalities and enhanced educational, mental health, substance abuse, and workforce development services, supports, and opportunities in the community.

Participating sites will also require capacity to measure outcomes and to provide data tracking to demonstrate how reforms affect outcomes for youth well-being and public safety.

4. Technical assistance

In addition to offering intensive support to help a small number of state and local pilot sites demonstrate the full potential of deep end reforms, the Foundation’s Juvenile Justice Strategy Group will provide information and assistance to other JDAI sites in a number of ways.

For instance, the Foundation will develop an array of new analytic tools and best practice guides, and it will make them available online to all JDAI sites on a dedicated website. These online tools will provide information to local JDAI site personnel on how to gather relevant data, assess current programs and practices, identify and plan new approaches to reduce overreliance on correctional/residential placements, and expand the scope and quality of non-residential treatment and supervision options.

In addition, the Foundation will create a technical assistance hub that will provide more expanded support for a limited number of other sites eager to explore deep end reform opportunities on a self-guided basis.

Jurisdictions falling into this category will be able to request technical assistance through the dedicated website. They will also have opportunities to participate in training seminars and specialized JDAI conferences focused on deep end reform.

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