For Immediate Release
Monday, April 23, 2012
Transforming the Juvenile Justice System to Give Kids a Second Chance
Increasing numbers of Atlantic County at-risk youth are turning their lives around by taking advantage of second chances afforded through the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative.
In the past, secured detention was the primary option for supervising youth offenders. With the implementation of the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative, a standardized risk assessment helps determine whether a youth is detained or placed into one of several alternative programs that may include treatment, counseling and education services, and community-based monitoring programs.
The JDAI is one of the nation's most effective and widespread juvenile justice reform efforts. Its goal is to ensure that only those youth who pose the greatest risk to public safety are detained while creating ways to supervise low-risk offenders within their communities. Collaboration among all juvenile stakeholders, including judges, prosecutors, public defenders, police and probation officers is integral to JDAI's success.
JDAI was implemented in Atlantic County in 2004, one of five pilot programs in the state. Over the years the number of detained youth in the county has decreased from 469 in 2003 to 226 in 2010. Between 2010 and 2011 there was an additional 30.5% decrease to reduce the number to 157.
Prior to the JDAI, national research showed that youth were being detained for infractions that did not pose public-safety risks and that such detention may actually perpetuate risky behaviors and increase the likelihood to re-offend.
Decreasing the number of youth in secured detention also cuts costs. It is estimated that community-based supervision alternatives cost one-third of the costs of secured detention.
"We believe in second chances for non-violent youth offenders," stated County Executive Dennis Levinson. "It is far more cost effective to rehabilitate these often disadvantaged youth than it is to incarcerate them. In the process of transforming our troubled juvenile justice system, we are also helping to transform young lives and prevent them from becoming adult offenders."
The Atlantic County Youth Services Commission plans and implements community based services and programs designed to reduce juvenile delinquency, provide community based options for the Family Court, and enhance public safety. Services include a Teen Employment Program, Victim Impact program, high risk probation, a gun violence prevention program, electronic monitoring and in home case management services. JDAI Innovations and State/Community Partnership Grant funding is awarded through the NJ Juvenile Justice Commission to support these services.
“The Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative is a partnership. By working together, we will continue to examine and improve our juvenile justice system and expand the reach of JDAI while maintaining community safety,” said Gloria R. Hancock, Ed.D., Acting Executive Director, Juvenile Justice Commission.
But while the results have been positive, there is still work to do. Atlantic County and its partner agencies are working to further reduce the average length of stay in detention facilities which was 39.8 days in 2011. They also hope to reduce the percentage of admissions comprised of youth of color which experienced an increase in 2011.
“We are encouraged by the progress with a decrease in the number of detention admissions coupled with an increase in successful alternative completions,” added Levinson. “The data confirms that JDAI is working to help kids attain a better future.”