In April, the Casey Foundation will commemorate the 25th anniversary of its Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) during the JDAI Inter-Site Conference in Orlando, Florida. Fittingly, detention reforms in Broward County inspired the creation of the initiative more than two decades ago.
The Early Days of Reform
From 1987 to 1992, Florida's Broward County combined interagency collaboration, research, objective screening procedures, non-secure detention alternatives and faster case processing to reduce its detention population by 65%, without any sacrifice of public safety. It saved taxpayers more than $5 million.
Following Broward County, five sites joined JDAI’s demonstration phase in 1992. Begun at the height of overcrowding in detention centers across the country and amid the nation’s alarm over youth crime and tough on crime tack, the JDAI pilot sites withstood significant political resistance. The early successes in two of the original sites — Multnomah County, Oregon, and Cook County, Illinois, which include the cities of Portland and Chicago respectively — as well as in two of the initiative’s first replication sites, Santa Cruz County, California, and Bernalillo County, New Mexico, proved that commonsense approaches and new alternatives could safely reduce the detention population.
As these successes and related detention reform strategies were documented and shared, JDAI’s replication phase gained momentum. A training and technical support infrastructure was built to help jurisdictions faithfully adopt JDAI’s eight core strategies, including five model sites that agreed to serve as learning laboratories for other jurisdictions.
JDAI has become the standard of practice for how local justice systems nationwide handle the critical front end of the juvenile court process. The number of jurisdictions adopting the model has continued to climb year-after-year, and state governments are taking an increasingly central role in supporting effective JDAI replication. Sites have reduced detention of court-involved youth more than 40% across the initiative compared to baseline years, and they have done so while protecting public safety and safeguarding taxpayer dollars.
JDAI now reaches nearly one-third of the total U.S. youth population. At the end of 2016, JDAI was operating in about 300 local jurisdictions nationwide, spread across 39 states and the District of Columbia.
Reform in JDAI sites has expanded beyond the front end of the system by applying core JDAI themes, such as effective collaboration and objective decision making, to the later phases of the juvenile court and corrections process. Sites in the JDAI network are reducing incarceration and out-of-home placement through intentional “deep end” reform work; others are tackling probation reform with the same objective of narrowing the pipeline into their systems and improving outcomes for kids.