Answering These Questions Can Help Juvenile Justice Agencies Reduce Youth Detention

Updated on June 10, 2020, and originally posted June 3, 2020, by the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Young African American male

The pat­terns emerg­ing from JDAI® sites in response to COVID-19 reveal how rapid­ly and dra­mat­i­cal­ly change is hap­pen­ing in juve­nile jus­tice agen­cies across the coun­try. The data offer insight to state and local lead­ers about how their own juris­dic­tions com­pare to larg­er trends. By ask­ing them­selves the right ques­tions, lead­ers can begin to under­stand what’s behind the num­bers, what’s work­ing and what’s not.

The Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion is pro­vid­ing ques­tions that lead­ers can ask them­selves to scru­ti­nize deten­tion deci­sions and to review — if not recon­sid­er — every pol­i­cy that leans toward con­fine­ment. The ques­tions cov­er pop­u­la­tion, releas­es, admis­sions, race equi­ty and lessons learned.

This is a real­ly great resource for juve­nile jus­tice agen­cies to tease what’s with­in and between the num­bers,” says Jason Melchi of Empact Solu­tions, which part­nered with the Foun­da­tion ana­lyze the COVID-19 Youth Deten­tion Sur­vey responses.

How does your juris­dic­tion com­pare to data com­piled from juris­dic­tions in 33 states?

Col­lec­tive­ly the respond­ing juris­dic­tions are home to 35% of the U.S. youth pop­u­la­tion, ages 10 to 17. The data were col­lect­ed on or before May 152020.

  • Giv­en what the aggre­gate trends indi­cate, how does your local juris­dic­tion compare?
  • For sites that have not reduced their deten­tion pop­u­la­tion dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, what are the reasons?

Are youth able to be released from detention?

  • What has been the biggest obsta­cle to releas­ing youth from detention?
  • What con­ver­sa­tions are tak­ing place to release youth cur­rent­ly in detention?
  • For youth in deten­tion, are they remain­ing there longer than they might have before the onset of COVID-19?
  • What mech­a­nisms exist to expe­dite releas­ing youth in detention?
  • Are the local courts hold­ing remote hear­ings for youth in deten­tion? If so, are there issues with access?
  • How are your alter­na­tives to deten­tion (ATD) func­tion­ing dur­ing the pan­dem­ic? Which ATDs or oth­er com­mu­ni­ty-based pro­grams are accept­ing place­ments and which have been sidelined?
  • How have ATDs adjust­ed dur­ing the pandemic?
  • What new deten­tion alter­na­tives do you wish you had access to right now?
  • What bar­ri­ers are pre­vent­ing or lim­it­ing your use of com­mu­ni­ty and home-based alter­na­tives instead of secure detention?
  • What else is chal­leng­ing in releas­ing youth from secure detention?

Are youth still being admit­ted to detention?

  • Has your juris­dic­tion expe­ri­enced a reduc­tion in refer­rals where a deten­tion deci­sion is being made?
  • Under what cir­cum­stances would a youth be admit­ted to deten­tion in your juris­dic­tion right now?
  • If you’ve expe­ri­enced a reduc­tion in admis­sions, what have been the biggest drivers?
  • What kind of effects has school clo­sures had on your admis­sions to detention?
  • What bar­ri­ers exist that are pre­vent­ing or lim­it­ing the use of com­mu­ni­ty and home-based alter­na­tives instead of secure detention?

How has the pan­dem­ic affect­ed race equity?

  • How are the trends in your juris­dic­tion dif­fer­ent or sim­i­lar for white youth and youth of color?
  • Have there been few­er youth with non-felony offens­es, school-relat­ed offens­es and/​or tech­ni­cal vio­la­tions enter­ing secure deten­tion? If so, how has this affect­ed dif­fer­ent groups of young peo­ple by race and ethnicity?
  • If dis­par­i­ties have nar­rowed, what could you do to main­tain that momen­tum dur­ing and after the pandemic?

What are some big­ger-pic­ture takeaways?

  • What strate­gies could you apply after the pan­dem­ic to keep admis­sions at their COVID-19 lev­el or lower?
  • What’s been bet­ter or worse with­out the bar­ri­er of trans­porta­tion to pro­grams and services?
  • What’s been bet­ter or worse con­nect­ing with youth electronically?
  • What are you strug­gling with the most right now?
  • What has changed that has offered insights about the future?
  • What changes do you hope will become permanent?

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