Alabama Practices Reduce Detention Populations and State Commitments

Posted March 17, 2012
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Sev­er­al Alaba­ma JDAI sites have reduced their deten­tion pop­u­la­tions and kept low-lev­el youth out of secure care. They have less­ened the bur­den on state youth cor­rec­tions and helped sus­tain reduc­tions in the insti­tu­tion­al­ized populations.

In 2008, Alaba­ma passed leg­is­la­tion ban­ning the incar­cer­a­tion of sta­tus offend­ers. The leg­is­la­tion was the cul­mi­na­tion of a long-term col­lab­o­ra­tive effort by stake­hold­ers through­out the system—judiciary, exec­u­tive, leg­isla­tive, state and local gov­ern­ment, advo­cates, and pub­lic officials—to improve out­comes for youth and to make the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem more accountable.

As admis­sions to state youth cor­rec­tions declined, local offi­cials were con­cur­rent­ly devel­op­ing fun­da­men­tal JDAI strate­gies to reduce the flow of youth into deten­tion and iden­ti­fy home- and com­mu­ni­ty-based options for low-lev­el youth and misdemeanants.

Dur­ing this time peri­od, the state’s com­mit­ted pop­u­la­tion shrank by 55%, going from 1,084 in May 2007 to 490 in Feb­ru­ary 2012. Admis­sions dropped by 49%, going from 3,340 in 2006 to 1,699 in 2011.

The change in admis­sions was dri­ven large­ly by sharp reduc­tions in the num­ber of youth admit­ted to state cus­tody for sta­tus offens­es, vio­la­tions of pro­ba­tion, and minor pub­lic order offens­es, accord­ing to an analy­sis by the Juve­nile Jus­tice Strat­e­gy Group at the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion. Of the 1,438 few­er admis­sions between 2006 and 2010, 77% (1,103) were for low-lev­el referrals.

As Alaba­ma down­sized its state cor­rec­tion­al sys­tem, four large met­ro­pol­i­tan areas became JDAI sites and began to imple­ment fun­da­men­tal deten­tion reform strate­gies to reduce the use of deten­tion. Sev­er­al sites saw results imme­di­ate­ly as they reduced admis­sions to state cus­tody and to their deten­tion center.

The Jef­fer­son Coun­ty (Birm­ing­ham) JDAI site reduced its state com­mit­ments by 73%, going from 713 in 2003 to 193 in 2009. Admis­sions to the Jef­fer­son Coun­ty deten­tion cen­ter were also down, going from 1,650 in 2006 to 948 in 2010.

Jef­fer­son Coun­ty offi­cials worked to strength­en local deci­sion-mak­ing pro­ce­dures affect­ing the use of secure deten­tion. They imple­ment­ed new intake poli­cies and risk instru­ments focused on han­dling sta­tus offend­ers infor­mal­ly, divert­ing youth, when­ev­er pos­si­ble, from court involve­ment. This result­ed in small­er pro­ba­tion case­loads and few­er Chil­dren in Need of Super­vi­sion” refer­rals, accord­ing to the analysis.

An inno­v­a­tive JDAI-relat­ed pol­i­cy is reduc­ing school-based refer­rals to juve­nile court for minor infrac­tions. Jef­fer­son Coun­ty edu­ca­tors are assum­ing greater respon­si­bil­i­ty to respond to school-based con­flicts and allow­ing stu­dents two warn­ings, with appro­pri­ate inter­ven­tions, before refer­ring to juve­nile court.

The Tuscaloosa Coun­ty JDAI site reduced its com­mit­ments to state cus­tody by 70% between 2006 and 2010, going from 227 to 69.

The Mont­gomery Coun­ty JDAI site reduced its state com­mit­ments by 23% between 2006 and 2010, and at the same time reduced admis­sions to its deten­tion cen­ter by 37% between 2006 and 2010.

In most of the juris­dic­tions uti­liz­ing fun­da­men­tal JDAI core strategies—including risk assess­ment, case plan­ning, col­lab­o­ra­tion, real­lo­ca­tion of funds, and com­mu­ni­ty-based alternatives—the local deten­tion pop­u­la­tions are con­sid­er­ably low­er today than they were when the state dein­sti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion efforts began.

The state’s com­mit­ted pop­u­la­tion has not returned to any­where near pre­vi­ous record-break­ing levels.

How­ev­er, after an impres­sive ear­ly effort that result­ed in 47% few­er refer­rals to state cus­tody across the four JDAI sites, more recent data indi­cate that reduc­tions in com­mit­ments and deten­tion have held steady.

For more infor­ma­tion, con­tact Karen Baynes-Dun­ning.

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