Annie E. Casey Foundation/Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative

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

After reviewing the literature, a group of community leaders and juvenile justice administrators attended a JDAI conference in Portland , Oregon .   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.   Below is a list of our initiatives:

  • March 2003: “13 and Under Policy" was implemented In March, 2003, Special Notice of Youth 13 years Old and Under was implemented.   The required form asks several questions around severity of offense, parental involvement, community/family safety and availability of alternatives to detention .   The protocol aids DYRS in responding immediately to those children and perhaps locating an alternative placement.
  • June 2003: Access to Electronic Monitoring. DYRS lead an effort to partner with the Justice of the Peace Court, Project Stay Free and Cornell Abraxas so the Court could have direct and immediate access to 40 electronic monitoring bracelets.  Prior to joining these agencies, JP Court committed youth to detention .   Then, youth received anklets via a Family Court order the next business day at their bail hearing.   This new partnership allows youth access to these services directly and more expeditiously. 
  • November, 2003: Increased alternative slots In the male non-secure detention facility, DYRS increased slots from 12 to 16.
  • February 2, 2004 : Violation of Probation Pilot Project DYRS began using the "Uniform Criteria for VOP Consideration" form statewide. Any Violation of Probation sought must be reviewed using this format. Since implementation, DYRS has observed an increase in uniformity amongst violations and more consistent use of graduated sanctions implemented prior to detention .
  • February, 2004: “ Mowlds for Holds” Youth on Aftercare Status . DYRS, in some instances, needs to sanction the youth on aftercare status for non-compliance This is accomplished via Administrative Holds which lasts 24, 48, or 72 hours, or via Aftercare Revocations (Step I/Step II) lasting 1 to 2 weeks and 2 to 4 weeks respectively. In recent years these youth have been held at the detention centers. Youth are now being held at Mowlds Cottage, the Level IV step down program from Ferris School This initiative impacts detention populations as these types of holds resulted in approximately 286 admissions during 2003
  • March, 2004: “Detention Alternatives Shared” Increased information sharing In March, 2004, Family Court began receiving the weekly report, "Community Service Alternative Report" which outlines slot utilization and slot availability for a variety of programs including detention alternatives. In late March, early April, Justice of the Peace Court began receiving the same report. This report is sent out weekly to the courts so they know the availability of all alternative slots
  • July, 2004: “ICCP” February 23, 2004 : “Intensive Community Care Program” Increased slots for the Intensive Community Supervision Program, Project Stay Free from 40 to 48 slots. The program provides:
    • Intensive home based services for approximately 3 months
    • Designed for males and females between the ages of 8 and 18 who live in New Castle County, and
    • are under DYRS supervision.
  • July, 2004, Kuhn Initiative: Chief Judge committed to personally hear juvenile delinquent cases Monday and Tuesday’s every week
  • August, 2004 RAI: “Risk Assessment Instrument (RAI)” the purpose of the RAI is to objectively assess the degree of risk presented by youngsters who come before the courts. If allowed to stay in the Community, what is the risk to determine a youth will commit another crime before trial? What is the likelihood that the youth will not show up for court appearances? And, what level of supervision will minimize these risks? To make these determinations objectively, Chief Judge Kuhn is leading the charge and is piloting a risk assessment instrument in Kent County led by Commissioner David Jones.
  • October, 2004 Legal Memorandum 03-269: Non Secure and Secure Juvenile Procedures for Delinquents.   The purpose of this legal memorandum is to allow a broader use of non secure detention and alternatives. If judges wish to order a juvenile defendant to a non-secure detention facility and there are no beds available, the commitment would be to the closest secure detention facility (either Stevenson House or NCCDC) and the last section on the worksheet would be completed so that the commitment would state: “The defendant should be transferred to a non-secure facility as soon as space becomes available or to another detention alternative as YRS deems appropriate.”   This language gives YRS the ability to move a youth as soon as a bed or alternative placement becomes available.  
  • October, 2004 Policy 220: “Revised Juvenile Detention Worksheet ” The purpose of the policy is to determine whether the child meets the statutory preliminary criteria for placement in secure detention . The revised worksheet tracks 10 Del. C . § 1007 and we anticipate that focusing on the statutory requirements will help reduce inappropriate detention s.
  • October, 2004 “Dependency Guidelines”: the Guidelines have been developed to aid the Courts when youth of any age have been arrested, the Court has determined that the charges do not warrant secure or non-secure detention , and parents or caretakers are unable or unwilling to allow the youth to return home.
  • December, 2004 Chief Judge Kuhn Memo. This memo was written to the Cabinet Secretary detailing the steps the court will be taking to ensure compliance with the provision of 10 Del. C. §1007.
  • February, 2005 Risk Assessment Instrument (RAI). This instrument rely on easily obtainable facts about the youth's history and behavior to predict risk. It also relies on the legal stature to determine whether a youth requires secure or non-secure detention or other alternatives.

As you can see, Delaware's collaborative team has been busy in bringing about Detention Reform. In addition to the initiatives, it was clear we also needed to provide some Departmental program enhancements.

They are:

  • In September, 2003, Child Mental Health provided a Psychologist to NCCDC. This was an internal collaboration between my sister agency, Child Mental Health that strengthened the psychological services in NCCDC
  • In October, 2003, Department Policy 209 on dependency was implemented to enhance case management, collaboration between Divisions relative to youngsters in detention . The policy impacts two populations in the juvenile justice system. Youth in placement who can not return home and youth presented to court on new offenses.
  • In June, 2004, Joe Avallone, Quality Assurance Manager from my office, led a team of Department and community staff to conduct a self inspection of the NCCDC. This is a unique opportunity for Delaware because we are the first in the nation to conduct such a process in detention according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. We will also serve as the model for other Juvenile Justice Jurisdictions involved in Detention Reform.

The Delaware collaborative team, chaired by Secretary Cari DeSantis 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.

AEC Foundation Chart

















Stevenson House