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Since 1948, the Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF) has worked to build better futures for disadvantaged children and their families in the United States . The primary mission of the Foundation is to foster public policies, human service reforms, and community supports that more effectively meet the needs of today's vulnerable children and families.
Juvenile Detention Reform
To demonstrate that jurisdictions can establish more effective and efficient systems to accomplish the purposes of juvenile detention , the Foundation established the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) in 1992. The objectives of JDAI are to reduce the number of children unnecessarily or inappropriately detained; to minimize the number of youth who fail to appear in court or reoffend pending adjudication; to redirect public funds toward successful reform strategies; and to improve conditions of confinement.
Each year hundreds of thousands of kids charged with delinquent acts are locked up in juvenile detention facilities. Between 1987 and 1996, the number of delinquency cases involving pretrial detention increased by 38 percent. Nearly 70 percent of children in public detention centers are in facilities operating above their design capacity.
Of the many troubling facts about pretrial juvenile detention perhaps the most disturbing one is that many incarcerated youth should not be there at all. These are the kids who pose little risk of committing a new offense before their court dates or failing to appear for court. “when you talk to judges, prosecutors or anyone involved in the juvenile justice system", says Bart Lubow, Senior Associate at the Annie E. Casey Foundation “many of them say things like we locked that kid up to teach him a lesson. Or we locked him up for his own good or we locked him up because his parents weren't available, or we locked him up to get a mental health assessment". None of these reasons are reflected in statute or professional standards.
The inappropriate use of secure detention poses hazards for youth, jurisdictions, and society at large. In Reforming Juvenile Detention: No More Hidden Closets, by Ira Schwartz, Dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Pennsylvania, and William Barton, an associate professor at the Indiana University School of Social Work, writes: "when families, neighborhoods, schools and other programs no longer wish to deal with troubled children, the detention center is the one resource that cannot turn them away ". "Children who are detained, rather than let go to their parents or released to some other kind of program, are statistically much more likely to be incarcerated at the end of the process”, says Mark Soler, President of the Youth Law Center. Despite the fairly straightforward case for improving pretrial detention policy and practice, reforming detention systems has proved very difficult. One reason is that diverse and autonomous juvenile justice agencies have to learn to work together in new ways. Another is that public safety and other politically charged issues embedded in detention reform are sensitive topics and sometimes immune to rational debate. A third reason is that adolescent youth who are charged with a crime, particularly kids of color, do not naturally attract public sympathy or attention. " these are the least favorite kids in America ”, says Mark Solar, President of the Youth Law Center .
Delaware's Collaborative Team
Delaware decided to become a JDAI replication site in January, 2002. The agreement was between the Chief Judge of Family Court, Attorney Generals office, Public Defenders office and the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families.
Delaware ’s objectives are:
- To develop (or sustain) collaboratives to plan and oversee the implementation of detention reform strategies;
- To study local detention policies and operations to identify opportunities to reduce the inappropriate or unnecessary use of secure detention ;
- To develop, implement and/or modify objective screening techniques to guide admissions decisions;
- To plan and implement new or enhanced community-based alternatives to detention ;
- To undertake case processing reforms to reduce lengths of stay, speed the administration of justice, and increase system efficiency;
- To develop data systems that produce accurate and timely measures to track basic progress in terms of detention and alternative program utilization;
- To assess and improve conditions of confinement in secure detention and
- To study, develop and implement policies and practices to reduce racial disparities in the use of secure detention .
These objectives represent the core strategies that have proved essential to meaningful change in other sites. Progress on these objectives are being measured by the following indicators:
- Reductions in the percentage of delinquency referrals that result in detention ;
- Reductions in case processing times;
- Reductions in average daily population in secure custody;
- Increases in the number of youth in alternatives-to- detention programs;
- Documented improvements in conditions of confinement in detention facilities;
- Sustained or improved failure to appear and pre-adjudication re-arrest rates; and
- Decreases in disparate rates of detention across racial and ethnic groups
Delaware is proud to be a replication site, which is one of 8 states and 10 counties participating in Juvenile Detention reform. We are working hard to meet the objectives set forth by the Program.
The Delaware collaborative team, chaired by Secretary Jennifer Ranji and Judge Kuhn has really moved the Juvenile Justice System into the 21 st century by making a commitment to provide the most appropriate services for Delaware's most vulnerable youth. Clearly, our work is not done. The next steps towards Juvenile Justice Reform will focus on the statewide Risk Assessment Instrument and combating the problem of Disproportionate Minority Confinement in our facilities.