Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative

What is JDAI?

The Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) was designed to support the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s vision that all youth involved in the juvenile justice system have opportunities to develop into healthy, productive adults. JDAI is now the largest juvenile justice system improvement initiative in the United States, operating in nearly 300 jurisdictions nationwide.

The primary goals of JDAI are to:

  1. Eliminate the inappropriate or unnecessary use of secure detention
  2. Minimize re-arrest and failure to appear rates pending adjudication
  3. Ensure appropriate conditions of confinement in secure facilities
  4. Reduce racial and ethnic disparities
  5. Redirect public finances to sustain successful reforms

In order to achieve the goals identified by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 8 Core Strategies were identified as the framework for implementation of the model.  These strategies, when implemented fully, have consistently achieved the goals identified by the Foundation while simultaneously maintaining public safety.  It is important to note that the implementation of these core strategies will look different depending on the jurisdiction.  Local culture, resources, values, and history dictate that the implementation of the model be flexible enough to allow sites to use their own data to direct their system design, redesign, and evaluation. 

JDAI in Washington

The Washington State Partnership Council on Juvenile Justice, in partnership with eight county juvenile courts has adopted JDAI as a detention reform and system improvement initiative and has invested federal funding in the initiative since 2004. The Council supports continued expansion of this successful initiative and has selected alternatives to detention, specifically the JDAI, as one of the top juvenile justice priorities for the state.

The Washington State Legislature has invested funds in this program since 2008 to assist with funding JDAI in Washington and to provide for its expansion.

The JDAI is a proven and cost-effective way for local jurisdictions and states to improve their juvenile justice systems and achieve the desired outcomes of:

  • Increased public safety.
  • Reduced detention overcrowding and the need to build and operate expensive detention facilities.
  • Better outcomes for youth and families by safely keeping youth in their homes, schools and community.
  • Reduction of racial disparities in the juvenile justice system.
  • Redirecting scarce public funding to less expensive and proven community-based programs.

Washington juvenile courts using JDAI strategies have significantly reduced their use of secure detention while also achieving historically high reductions in juvenile crime.

JDAI's 8 core strategies

Collaboration and Leadership

Because the juvenile justice system involves the interaction of multiple systems, improvements require that all of those systems work together to guide the reform process; analyze problems and recommend solutions; design changes to policies, practices and programs; and monitor impact. This requires a commitment to joint planning, shared responsibility, and mutual accountability.

Data Driven Decisions

JDAI depends upon objective data analysis to inform the development and oversight of policy, practice and programs. Data on detention population, utilization and operations is collected to provide a portrait of who is being detained and why, and to monitor the impacts of policies and practices. As a results-based initiative, JDAI establishes and tracks multiple performance measures; however, the primary data points are Admissions to Detention and Alternatives, Average Length of Stay in Detention and Alternatives, Average Daily Population in Detention and Alternatives, as well as Re-offense and Failure to Appear Rates for youth on Alternatives. All data is disaggregated by REGGO (Race, Ethnicity, Gender, Geography, and Offense) to monitor disparities in the system.

Reducing Racial and Ethnic Disparities

Reducing racial disparities requires specific strategies aimed at eliminating bias and ensuring a level playing field for youth of color. Racial and ethnic disparities are the most stubborn aspect of detention reform. Real, lasting change in this arena requires committed leadership, on-going policy analysis and targeted policies and programming.

Objective Admissions

Detention admissions policies and practices must distinguish between the youth who are more likely to flee or commit new crimes and those who are less likely. JDAI sites develop Detention Risk Assessment Instruments to objectively screen youth to determine which youth can be safely supervised in the community. Absent an objective approach, high-risk offenders may be released and low-risk offenders detained.

Alternatives to Detention

New or enhanced non-secure alternatives to detention programs increase the options available for arrested youth by providing supervision, structure and accountability. Detention alternative programs target only those youth who would otherwise be detained, and typically include: electronic monitoring, house arrest, community monitoring, day or evening reporting centers, and shelter beds for youth who cannot return home. The most effective juvenile justice systems have a program continuum that both responds to the legal status of youth and ensures that they can also be safely supervised in the community.

Expedited Case Processing

Modifications of juvenile court procedures accelerate the movement of delinquency cases, streamline case processing and reduce unnecessary delay. Case processing reforms are introduced to expedite the flow of cases through the system. These changes reduce lengths of stay in custody, expand the availability of non-secure program slots and ensure that interventions with youth are timely and appropriate. 

Special Detention Cases

"Special detention cases" are those cases that commonly represent large percentages of inappropriate or unnecessary stays in detention. Data analysis typically directs jurisdictions to focus on those youth detained on warrants, for probation violations, or pending dispositional placement. Addressing these cases can have immediate and significant impact on safely reducing detention populations.  Best practices have identified two-tiered warrants, incentives and sanctions grids, and updating standard probation rules as effective responses to reduce special detention cases.

Conditions of Confinement

Since its inception, JDAI has emphasized the importance of maintaining safe and humane conditions of confinement in juvenile detention facilities. The JDAI juvenile detention facility standards, originally published in 2004 and revised in 2014, represent the most comprehensive and demanding set of publicly available standards for juvenile detention facilities. Officials in JDAI sites have used these standards and JDAI facility assessment process to improve policies and practices and ensure that their facilities reflect evolving standards of practice in the field. 

Reference: Pathways to Juvenile Detention Reform Series

JDAI sites in Washington

  • Adams County Juvenile Court
  • Benton-Franklin Counties Juvenile Court
  • Clark County Juvenile Court
  • King County Superior Court
  • Mason County Juvenile Court
  • Pierce County Juvenile Court
  • Snohomish County Superior-Juvenile Court
  • Whatcom County Juvenile Court