Detention Reform Pays Off: Bed Reductions Are Saving JDAI Sites More Than $100 Million Per Year

Posted January 8, 2015, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Blog detentionreformpaysoff 2015

Richard Ross for Juvenile in Justice

As an update to its ear­li­er pub­li­ca­tion, Two Decades of JDAI: From Demon­stra­tion Project to Nation­al Stan­dard, the Foun­da­tion has released a progress report detail­ing the cumu­la­tive impact of the Juve­nile Deten­tion Alter­na­tives Ini­tia­tive (JDAI) nation­wide. The new pub­li­ca­tion pro­vides a his­to­ry of the ini­tia­tive, a descrip­tion of its ratio­nale and core strate­gies, an update on the sta­tus of repli­ca­tion efforts nation­wide and the results achieved in par­tic­i­pat­ing juris­dic­tions. There also is a dis­cus­sion of con­tin­u­ing chal­lenges and future direc­tions for the deten­tion reform movement.

The report is chocked full of infor­ma­tion. How­ev­er, one piece of new data stands out: the deten­tion facil­i­ty oper­at­ing cost sav­ings real­ized by JDAI sites that have shut­tered deten­tion units or closed entire facil­i­ties thanks to the pop­u­la­tion reduc­tions achieved through their deten­tion reform efforts.

The report finds that as of 2013, 56 sites had reduced bed capac­i­ty in their deten­tion facil­i­ties since enter­ing JDAI. Togeth­er, these sites have closed or shut­tered deten­tion units with a com­bined total of 2,050 beds. That means few­er staff ded­i­cat­ed to secure deten­tion, few­er meals, few­er main­te­nance costs… a whole lot of savings.

How much, exactly? 

While no cred­i­ble nation­al esti­mate of the aver­age dai­ly cost of deten­tion has been cal­cu­lat­ed in recent years, an Inter­net scan of recent­ly pub­lished deten­tion cost esti­mates turned up annu­al costs rang­ing from $55,000 to $238,000 per bed, with a medi­an of $82,000. Using a con­ser­v­a­tive range of $60,000 to $80,000 per year, JDAI sites are real­iz­ing $123 mil­lion to $164 mil­lion each year in reduced costs for secure deten­tion, with a best guess esti­mate (at $70,000 per bed) of $143.5 mil­lion per year.

The sav­ings have ben­e­fit­ed JDAI juris­dic­tions in two ways. First, they have helped states and local­i­ties ease the dire fis­cal crises they have faced since the reces­sion emerged in 2009, lim­it­ing the need for cut­backs in essen­tial pro­grams and ser­vices. Sec­ond, many JDAI juris­dic­tions have real­lo­cat­ed funds saved by decom­mis­sion­ing deten­tion facil­i­ty beds to sup­port more and bet­ter deten­tion alter­na­tives pro­gram­ming, ded­i­cat­ed staff for deten­tion reform (such as site coor­di­na­tors, case expe­diters and data spe­cial­ists), and/​or new pro­gram­ming aimed at improv­ing their juve­nile jus­tice sys­tems more broadly.

While none of the JDAI sites went into deten­tion reform for the mon­ey, these sav­ings are nonethe­less prov­ing a wel­come windfall.

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