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 over 300 jurisdictions nationwide.

In order to achieve the goals identified by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 8 Core Strategies were developed as the framework for implementation of the model. When implemented fully, these strategies 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's 8 Core Strategies

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; to analyze problems and recommend solutions; to design changes to policies, practices, and programs; and to monitor impact. This requires a commitment to joint planning, shared responsibility, and mutual accountability. 

For these reasons, all JDAI sites begin their work by creating a collaborative steering committee and governance structure that includes system and community representatives who have the authority to make decisions on behalf of their agencies or groups. To ensure continued momentum and accountability, the collaborative should be chaired or co-chaired by influential leaders committed to quality pretrial justice for juveniles. JDAI collaboratives should be formally empowered to address detention reform, including racial and ethnic disparities. This may happen through a formal county resolution establishing the collaborative or through a memorandum of understanding signed by the collaborative’s key members. 

Examples of this strategy in action: Establish a local steering committee, hold regular executive team and workgroup meetings, hire a dedicated JDAI coordinator, establish partnerships with law enforcement, schools, mental health providers, community-based organizations, etc.

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.

Examples of this strategy in action: form a local data workgroup, review of annual and quarterly data reports, complete specific topic data requests, conduct data quality assurance reviews, implement new data entry training, complete data utilization studies, and complete data system upgrades/redesigns as needed.

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, ongoing policy analysis, and targeted policies and programming. Every core strategy should always include a review of the issues from the perspective of race and ethnicity. Every decision point in the system should be examined through the data by disaggregation by race and ethnicity.

Examples of this strategy in action: complete racial impact statements for new policies and practices prior to implementation, complete implicit bias training, build probation response grids, build alternatives to confinement programs; disaggregate all data by race and ethnicity.

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.

Examples of this strategy in action: collaborative design and implementation of detention screening instruments, implementation of diversion programs, crisis intervention response, creation or revision of summons and citation processes, revision of law enforcement general orders, override reason tracking and response.

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.

The supervision of pre-adjudicated youth should be linked to their level of risk of Failure-to-Appear or re-arrest; post-adjudication programming should be linked to the dispositional purposes the court seeks to accomplish (i.e., sanctions or rehabilitative goals). Programs should also be able to respond to compliance failures by increasing contact and case management activities instead of automatically terminating participation for noncompliance. Whether pre-adjudication or post-adjudication, ATDs should be grounded in an understanding of adolescent development and behavior, and program activities should reflect youths’ needs, cultures, and traditions.

Examples of this strategy in action: curfew programs, evening/day/weekend reporting, shelter care, community service, electronic home monitoring, and domestic violence diversion programs.

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. Case processing times for youth who are detained and those released on ATDs should strive to be as similar as possible due to the understanding that an ATD should be short term. The longer a youth is supervised on an ATD, the more likely they are to violate the release conditions and therefore drive up potential detention admissions and/or slow down the case process even further.

Examples of this strategy in action: completion of a Case Processing Study, review of continuances, changing petition filing deadlines, reduce days between hearings, high priority status for assessments.

"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.

Examples of this strategy in action: Two tier warrant process, probation response grids, updating probation rules, court reminder call programs, community coaches, ability to quash warrants, and dispositional planning.

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. Sites are encouraged to conduct a facility self-assessment every 2 to 3 years in order to ensure regular review and continuous improvement.

Examples of this strategy in action: staff training, classification systems, population reductions, statewide facility standards, JDAI facility standards.