|TRENTON – The Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF) today released a report detailing the dramatic drop in juvenile incarceration rates across the country. The KIDS COUNT Data Snapshot analyzes data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
Between 1997 and 2010, New Jersey’s juvenile population held in county-operated detention centers, as well as JJC residential programs and secure facilities, fell from 2,250 to 1,179. Much of this change can be attributed to the implementation of the Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) in New Jersey. Currently, 16 counties are part of the initiative: Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cumberland, Essex, Hudson, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, Passaic, Somerset, Union, Warren, and Gloucester.
“JDAI continues to be a great story in New Jersey,” said Judge Glenn A. Grant, acting administrative director of the courts. “Today’s report from the Casey Foundation shows what can be achieved when we work together to do the right thing by kids who need supervision, not incarceration, to address their issues.
“The collaboration among government agencies, including the Juvenile Justice Commission and county and social service agencies, along with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, is clearly bringing benefits to our youth and our communities at large,” said Judge Grant.
“For many years, New Jersey’s detention centers operated at a level that often exceeded their individual capacities, some greatly so. They were filled with low level offenders, not because they met the requirements for detention, but because there were no reasonable alternatives to incarceration,” said Kevin M. Brown, Acting Executive Director, Juvenile Justice Commission.
“The JJC, in cooperation with its partners including the Judiciary, is successfully changing the system of juvenile justice in New Jersey, thereby ensuring that juveniles’ needs are met and that public safety is maintained,” said Brown.
Through JDAI, sites have implemented a wide array of detention alternative programs, including electronic monitoring, evening reporting centers, supervised home detention, and shelter care. In many JDAI sites youth also have access to case managers, employment programs, or other services to help keep them arrest-free. In some counties, transportation is made available to ensure youth appear for required court hearings, evaluations, or service appointments, minimizing non-appearance, which can result in detention. Almost 97% of youth placed on these detention alternatives complete their placement without a new delinquency event.
Through JDAI, probation has worked to implement a system of graduated responses to rule violations in order to redirect youth in a positive way, and substantially reduce reliance on incarceration for noncompliant behavior.
While these decreases in juvenile incarceration have taken place, nationally down by 37 percent, juvenile arrests rates have not increased. These results demonstrate the vast majority of the young people who remain in their community do not pose an increased public safety threat.
The AECF has named New Jersey the model for other states wishing to implement JDAI statewide. So far, eight states, including Arizona, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, and Ohio states have sent delegations to New Jersey to receive guidance on how to successfully implement this program. Three more site visits are tentatively scheduled over the next few months.
As a result of these changes, secure placements in New Jersey and increasingly across the country are reserved for those youth at the “deep-end” of the juvenile justice system. Research demonstrates that detained youth are more likely to be incarcerated in a state placement at the point of sentencing than non-detained youth with similar offenses. In New Jersey, reliance on incarceration as a sentencing option is also reduced through the efforts of the County Youth Services Commissions, who receive funding from the JJC to implement an array of community-based programs for use by the court as sentencing alternatives.
As a result of all of these efforts, youth incarcerated with the JJC today are now those with the most complex issues and the most serious delinquency histories. Many of the juveniles committed to the JJC have serious drug addictions, mental health disorders and gang involvement, necessitating a high level of care.
The report can be found at: www.aecf.org/
Nine years ago, New Jersey was selected as an official replication site for the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), and was awarded an annual grant of up to $200,000 by the Foundation. The initiative is a partnership among state and local level agencies, including the JJC, the Attorney General’s Office, the Judiciary, and the Office of the Public Defender, and participating counties. The New Jersey Council on Juvenile Justice System Improvement (CJJSI), whose members are appointed by the JJC Executive Director and the Administrative Director of the Courts, guides the statewide initiative.
A primary goal of JDAI is to make sure that secure detention is used only to ensure that serious and chronic youthful offenders are detained, and that effective alternatives are available for other youth who can be safely supervised in the community while awaiting final court disposition. The initiative provides a framework of strategies that help reduce the inappropriate use of secure juvenile detention, while maintaining public safety and court appearance rates. A major focus of the work is to reduce the disproportionate use of detention for minority youth.