Alternatives to Secure Detention

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Considering alternatives to secure detention, there are some things to keep in mind. For one, the juvenile correctional system has been known to be a poor method of rehabilitating youth. They have been found to be crowded, with a high flight and reoffense rate. Also, there is no proven effectiveness of secure detention in rehabilitating the youth. Instead, community-based solutions should be the focus.

Crowding of juvenile correctional facilities

Juvenile detention facilities are part of larger juvenile justice systems, which provide for the safe custody of young offenders. They include secure boarding schools and long-term training programs. These programs vary from the least restrictive to the most secure. However, all are accountable for providing safe, humane care for youth.

The number of juveniles being housed in juvenile correctional facilities has increased nationally. Overcrowding in such facilities is not uncommon. In fact, research indicates that overcrowding can make it more difficult for youth to receive proper care. A study by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention found that overcrowded facilities also contributed to more injuries to staff.

During the 1990s, the number of public juvenile correctional facilities operating above their rated capacity skyrocketed. In fact, the percentage of youth in overcrowded facilities rose from 20 percent to nearly 60 percent. This spike was due in large part to county-operated facilities.

The Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) was designed to address these problems. JDAI’s aim was to demonstrate alternative juvenile detention strategies that would reduce the number of youth in secure facilities, improve the quality of services, and keep juveniles out of jail.

JDAI’s goals included reducing disparate use of detention for minority youth. It also aimed to maintain court appearance rates, minimize failures to appear, and minimize use of secure detention. To achieve these goals, the Initiative developed a set of standards and strategies to help juvenile correctional administrations improve their practices.


One of these measures was the introduction of objective admissions screening. Using this method, the average daily population in secure juvenile correctional facilities dropped by one third. Another improvement was a reduction in pretrial re-arrest rates.

In addition, several states have established upper age limits for juveniles. Most of them limit the age to 17, while Idaho and West Virginia have established an upper limit of 21.

Another innovation was the use of volunteer staff to improve the overall working environment. Volunteers are especially important for improving relationships with juveniles.

Finally, JDAI emphasized the importance of maintaining communication and cooperation between detention personnel. For example, the JSC workers in Philadelphia met with City Council members to discuss overcrowding and safety issues.

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Unproven effectiveness of detention toward rehabilitating youth

Youth incarceration is often a traumatic experience. It damages young people’s , educational success, and future economic prospects. It also undermines public safety. There are proven alternatives to youth incarceration that are more effective in treating young people, less expensive, and more beneficial for individuals and communities.

In a recent report, The Sentencing Project reviewed the research on programs that could reduce the number of children incarcerated. They conclude that community-based alternative programs are most promising.

The report recommends that states invest in evidence-based programs that can help rehabilitate detained youth. These programs should involve representatives from community-based agencies, schools, and mental/behavioral service providers. Ideally, these programs would begin early and involve youth, family members, and school officials.

A federal policy should encourage states to pursue these more promising programs, and limit the length of time youth spend in correctional custody. Such a policy should also track how these alternative programs affect young people’s success in school, jobs, and public safety.

Some state and local jurisdictions are already making changes to youth justice systems. These reforms include closing youth prisons and shifting to more community-based approaches. However, more needs to be done to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

Another key issue is the disproportionate number of black youth who are incarcerated. This is largely due to biased decision-making. Although these figures may be declining, they still represent a large disparity for youth of color.

Those incarcerated in adult jails are more likely to be physically assaulted, confined in isolation, and denied access to developmentally appropriate programs. They are also much more likely to be rearrested, and they have a higher rate of recidivism.

In many states, detention is used for youth who are charged with nonviolent offenses. However, studies show that incarceration does not decrease delinquent behavior. Instead, it causes a variety of long-term problems, including depression, poor adult , and increased likelihood of reoffending.

To address this problem, several states have adopted a more community-based approach to juvenile justice. Compared to detention, these programs are less expensive, less disruptive to family and employment, and more beneficial for the community.

Community-based alternatives

For families, children, and communities, the use of detention facilities can lead to an unnecessary cycle of isolation. Youth who are detained spend a period of time away from positive influences, and a growing body of research suggests that the impact of detention on youth is not beneficial for their rehabilitation.

Alternative-to-detention programs can offer an alternative to incarceration, enabling Family Court Judges to release juveniles back to their families and communities. These alternatives prevent a youth from entering the justice system and allow families and communities to identify and address issues in a holistic way. The Casey Foundation has encouraged juvenile justice practitioners to adopt these policies and practices through the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI).

Community-based alternatives to detention include a variety of practices, including diversion, which prevents youth from entering the justice system in the first place. These programs provide an opportunity to engage the youth in activities that will improve their lives and reduce recidivism. They can also help reduce overcrowding at juvenile correctional facilities. In addition, diversion programs do not carry the long-term punitive consequences of incarceration, making them more effective.