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Press Release
For Immediate Release:
November 22, 2004
Lee Moore
Sharon Lauchaire

JJC: Significant Population Reductions Reported at Juvenile Detention Centers;
State's Detention Alternatives Initiative, Related Efforts, Improving Conditions

TRENTON - Juvenile Justice Commission Executive Director Howard L. Beyer announced today that, as a result of a comprehensive detention reform initiative launched by the State earlier this year, overcrowding conditions have been reduced at four county detention centers in New Jersey.

According to Beyer, the average daily juvenile detention population has dropped by 31 percent in Essex county, 18 percent in Camden County, 14 percent in Atlantic County and 7 percent in Monmouth county since 2003. Collectively, the detention centers - each a participant in the JJC's Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative -- have a total of 100 fewer juveniles in them on a daily basis, equating to a 24 percent overall reduction.

"The bottom line is that many kids who come into contact with the juvenile justice system are safer and -- since these population reductions are being achieved through the identification of sound alternatives to detention - the public is safer as well," said Beyer. "As anyone familiar with a detention setting can attest, overcrowding not only creates difficult living conditions and low morale, it can act as a catalyst to more serious problems."

Focused not only on detention alternatives, but on improving conditions for juveniles who are confined as well, the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) is being piloted in Atlantic, Camden, Essex and Monmouth counties. It will soon also be operating in Hudson county. Beyer said the ultimate goal is to have the program's core elements in place in all 17 of New Jersey's county-operated detention centers.

In addition, Beyer noted, the JJC has been phasing in a number of non-JDAI-related programs aimed at enhancing conditions and services at both county-run detention centers and State facilities operated by the JJC.

Through the hiring of physicians, nurses and other personnel, and through relationships with area treatment centers, the JJC will begin providing "in-house" health care services for juveniles starting in January 2005. Through a partnership between the JJC and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), the JJC will also begin providing in-house mental health services as of January.

Beyer noted that Christopher Kosseff, President and Chief Executive Officer at UMDNJ's University Behavioral Health Care center, has been named to an 11-member mental health task force created by Acting Governor Richard J. Codey. The task force mission is to study mental health issues in New Jersey, and to identify and implement strategies for helping the mentally ill lead more normal lives. Under an executive order signed by the Acting Governor, the task force will hold public hearings, convene a statewide Mental Health Summit, and form advisory committees to help it identify and address areas of need.

"I have made improving mental health services for all New Jersey residents a priority of my Administration from day one," said Acting Governor Codey. "The mental health task force is charged with examining all aspects of the State's mental health system, including services provided to juveniles in state detention centers. I have every confidence that the task force's recommendations will lead to improvements in this area as well as many others."

Beyer said the JJC "looks forward to a dialogue with Acting Governor Codey and the task force concerning mental health issues in a juvenile justice context."

"We recognize and appreciate that mental health is an issue the Acting Governor cares deeply about," said the Executive Director. "We are also thrilled at the JJC to be able to partner with an organization of such esteem and professionalism as UMDNJ."

Meanwhile, the JJC has been working with the county detention centers to implement a new mental-health screening tool for juveniles known as the Massachussetts Youth Screening Instrument or "MAYSI."

Essentially, Beyer explained, the MAYSI is a mental health evaluation approach that can be used by non-clinical personnel to "red flag" certain indicators including those for trauma, mental illness, aggressiveness, etc. Beginning in December, seven counties - Atlantic, Camden, Essex, Hudson, Monmouth, Ocean and Passaic - are expected to begin using MAYSI. It is expected to be in use throughout the 17 county-run detention centers by June.

"The JJC is not a mental health agency, nor is it a child welfare agency," said Beyer. "However, the reality is that young people with mental health issues - sometimes inappropriately placed - do end up in county detention or state-run juvenile justice facilities. Through our partnership with UMDNJ, and through implementation of MAYSI at the county detention centers, we are strengthening our ability to identify their needs and address them. It is, simply put, the right thing to do."

With regard to the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, Beyer said JJC launched the project in January of this year. He explained that the JDAI seeks to address a number of core concerns, among them: reducing the number of children who are unnecessarily or inappropriately detained; exploring the issue of disproportionate minority confinement; minimizing the number of youth who fail to appear in court or re-offend pending adjudication; redirecting public funds toward successful reform strategies and improving conditions for those appropriately in detention.

The JDAI is being led by the Juvenile Justice Commission, but it is founded on a collaborative approach involving stakeholders at all levels in the law enforcement, human services, juvenile justice and judicial arenas.

The project is supported by $200,000 in grant funding, as well as technical assistance, from the Annie E. Casey Foundation of Baltimore. The Casey Foundation is a private charitable organization recognized as a national leader in the field of juvenile detention reform.

Beyer explained that JJC is committed to an ongoing effort to ensure that all county-operated detention centers are sufficiently staffed, and that they provide an adequate level of cleanliness, safety, and security -- including suicide risk prevention. In keeping with that mission, he said, JJC personnel are in constant communication with county officials, and regularly visit, inspect and provide training in the detention centers.

In addition, he noted, the JJC provides funding, equipment, technical assistance and monitoring for education programs provided in detention centers, and works with the counties on gang management and gang awareness initiatives.

"It is important to remember that we are dealing with children," said Beyer. "Our commitment - and we appreciate that Attorney General Harvey shares that commitment - is to make sure kids who don't need to be in detention don't end up there, and that kids who do need detention are properly cared for, properly assessed, and given all the safeguards a child is entitled to."

For more information on the JJC, please visit

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