The Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) is a nationally known project developed by The Annie E. Casey Foundation (Casey Foundation) in 1992. The JDAI is a comprehensive system reform model that has shown to safely reduce reliance on secure detention. This system reform model has proven to reduce detention populations, improve public safety outcomes, expand alternative programs, enhance conditions of confinement, and reduce racial disparities.
The Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2003 began Louisiana’s earnest effort to change the way Louisiana’s youth are handled. One part of the juvenile justice system changes include reforming the detention centers, which are operated and funded by the local government. Detention is the gateway to the system’s deep end. Studies have shown that detained youth are more likely to be formally charged, adjudicated delinquent, and incarcerated than similarly situated peers.
In an effort to address this reformation, the Office of the Governor has designated the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration on Criminal Justice (LCLE) to oversee the JDAI effort within the state. In 2006, LCLE, along with five parishes, Caddo, Calcasieu, East Baton Rouge, Jefferson, and Orleans, joined the JDAI effort. LCLE works closely with each parish and acts as the liaison between the parishes and the Casey Foundation.
To begin the JDAI effort in Louisiana, the Casey Foundation assessed each parish on the JDAI core strategies. Using the assessment as a guide, each parish developed a work plan that will address the eight-core strategies:
- Collaboration between the major juvenile justice agencies, other governmental entities, and community organizations. Without collaboration, even well-designed reforms are likely to flounder or be subverted. A formal structure within which to undertake joint planning and policymaking is essential.
- Use of accurate data, both to diagnose the system’s problems and proclivities and to assess the impact of various reforms, is critical.
- Objective admissions criteria and instruments must be developed to replace subjective decision making at all points where choices to place children in secure custody are made.
- New or enhanced non-secure alternatives to detention must be implemented in order to increase the options available for arrested youth. These programs must be careful to target youth who would otherwise be locked up. Whenever possible, they should be based in neighborhoods where detention cases are concentrated and operated by local organizations.
- Case processing reforms must be introduced to expedite the flow of cases through the system. These changes reduce lengths of stay in custody, expand the availability of non-secure program slots, and ensure that interventions with youth are timely and appropriate.
- Special detention cases —for youth in custody as a result of probation violations, writs and warrants, as well as those awaiting placement—must be re-examined and new practices implemented to minimize their presence in the secure facility.
- Reducing racial disparities requires specific strategies (in addition to those listed above) aimed at eliminating bias and ensuring a level playing field for youth of color. Change in this arena also requires persistent, determined leadership because the sensitive nature of these discussions and changes frequently provoke defensiveness and avoidance.
- Improving conditions of confinement is most likely to occur when facilities are routinely inspected by knowledgeable individuals applying rigorous protocols and ambitious standards. Absent of this kind of consistent scrutiny, conditions in secure facilities are unlikely to improve and often will deteriorate.
The above eight core strategies are part of the Pathways to Juvenile Detention Reform, which is published by the Casey Foundation. This set of publications provides practical information for understanding and implementing juvenile detention reform. To view or obtain copies, visit www.aecf.org/Home/KnowledgeCenter/PublicationsSeries/JDAIPathways.aspx .
To learn more about partnerships for this initiative
JDAI State Coordinator
LA Commission on Law Enforcement
P.O. Box 3133
Baton Rouge, LA 70821