Conference Promotes Juvenile Detention Alternatives

John J. Hoffman

Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman

EAST BRUNSWICK – The New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission (JJC) hosted the New Jersey Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) All-Sites Conference on October 17 and 18 at the East Brunswick Hilton. More than 400 people attended the statewide conference. Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman; Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, and JJC Executive Director Kevin M. Brown welcomed the attendees from across the state. The conference was made possible through a grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The theme of this year’s conference, “Inspire Youth, Empower Families, Engage Communities,” stressed the expanding work of JDAI. Past conferences have provided an opportunity for New Jersey JDAI members to share information on their successes, obtain information on national experiences in implementing JDAI, and learn more about the JDAI core strategies and philosophy. This year’s conference included workshops on family-focused policy and practice, family engagement in juvenile justice, the challenges of high needs youth, probation innovations, and collaborations with school and local police. The faculty is made up of local and state leaders involved in the implementation of JDAI, as well as national experts. Members of each County Council on Juvenile Justice System Improvement, as well as State Council members, were in attendance. A special presentation was provided by Ole Pete Key, Inc. entitled, “If That Was Your Child.”

“While the ability to detain someone should never be taken lightly, it is even more significant when we talk about young people because of the severe impact it has proven to have on their development and future actions. We have a responsibility to ensure that every opportunity is exhausted before we deprive a young person of his or her freedom,” said Hoffman. “Through JDAI, New Jersey has established a fair and consistent approach to juvenile justice, while maintaining public safety and saving the State, and participating counties, millions of dollars. It is a government initiative that can truly prove it is working.”

In April 2004, New Jersey was selected as an official replication site for the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative and awarded an annual grant of $200,000 by the foundation. The nationally recognized program was developed in response to national trends reflecting a drastic increase in the use of secure detention for juveniles despite decreases in juvenile arrests, and the resulting overcrowding of youth detention centers nationwide. JDAI works to reduce the number of low-level youth unnecessarily or inappropriately held in secure detention, while maintaining public safety and ensuring that youth appear for scheduled court dates. JDAI also works to redirect resources toward successful reform strategies, including alternative community programs, and to improve the conditions of confinement in detention facilities for those youth who require this secure level of supervision.

The JJC is the lead agency for JDAI in New Jersey, providing the management and staffing infrastructure integral to New Jersey’s success as a JDAI site. The New Jersey Judiciary is a critical partner in this work, and with the JJC, has provided the leadership needed to achieve national recognition. In 2008, The Annie E. Casey Foundation named New Jersey as the first and only “model state” for statewide juvenile detention reform.

“As the model for the statewide implementation of JDAI, delegations from eleven states have visited New Jersey to learn from our successes,” said Kevin M. Brown, Executive Director, Juvenile Justice Commission. “As the host of the JDAI All-sites Conference, the JJC is pleased to bring national experts to New Jersey to further expand the reform of the juvenile justice system. Reform is never complete and there is still work to do in New Jersey to improve outcomes for youth, families and this state’s communities.”

To date, 17 New Jersey counties are implementing JDAI: Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, Passaic, Somerset, Union and Warren; Cape May County was recently named as the 17th JDAI site. Of the 17 counties, 10 currently operate secure juvenile detention centers.

Since JDAI’s inception, juvenile arrests have continued to decline, thus demonstrating that JDAI is an effective public safety strategy. Uniform Crime Report figures indicate that in 2011 (the most recent year for which the Uniform Crime Report is available), juvenile arrests were down in all JDAI sites as compared to each site’s pre-JDAI year, for a total reduction of -44.5%. Arrests for the more serious “index” offenses are down -33.3%. These changes provide additional evidence that JDAI public safety goals are being met. Across the sites reporting detention alternative outcome data, 96% of youth completed their alternative disposition without a new delinquency charge.

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