Nov/Dec 2009

State News: August 2009



better outside the bars

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Finding Alternatives

But to adequately serve the needs of these offenders, jurisdictions must offer some alternatives. That starts with changing the mindset of a community used to seeing juvenile offenders jailed.
“To many people, that might sound like being soft on crime … not holding youth accountable,” said Rand Young, who worked 35 years in the juvenile court in Spokane, Wash., and is now Washington state’s JDAI coordinator.
Young had to change his own attitude about juvenile justice. But the more he looked at JDAI—the cost-savings and the successes across the country—the more he became a believer.
“It seems to me that the strategies involved in JDAI are really how the juvenile justice system should work in terms of having the right kids in the most expensive resource and having the other kids in resources that are not only more affordable, but more likely to produce better outcomes,” he said.
In Spokane, it all started with an overcrowded detention center. Young said taxpayers did not support a bond issue to replace the older facility. JDAI allowed Spokane to safely decrease the detention center population and alleviate the need for a new facility.
“For a much smaller amount of money, we were able to put on line a number of alternative programs that have proven to be really good and, in many ways, better resources for low-risk kids than putting them in secure detention,” said Young.
Those include house arrest programs where youth are confined to their homes, with the exception of attending school or work, and monitored through cell phone calls or random drop-in visits by counselors; day reporting programs where students attend an alternative school if they are out of school; evening reporting programs for youth who may be in school but need to be supervised after school; and a weekend program that also focuses on education.
“We are not going to have those kids on probation or in custody very long so we have to teach them to be successful on their own,” Young said.
In many cases, these programs require changes to state law and collaboration from stakeholders involved in juvenile justice.
In New Mexico, for instance, several changes to the children’s code have been made, including a change this year that authorized judges to designate an assessment center or day reporting program as an alternative to detention.
Jennifer LeBaron, New Jersey state coordinator for JDAI and manager of research and evaluation for the state’s juvenile justice commission, said the state has funded detention specialists that work with local jurisdictions on JDAI. New Jersey is the only JDAI state model program in the country.
LeBaron said support from local communities was “hugely critical to be able to expand this in numerous jurisdictions.”
The data illustrating success of these programs brought support from the legislature, governor’s office and key state agencies. It resulted in a $4 million allocation two years ago, according to LeBaron. That money was used to permanently fund detention specialists, who work with communities on detention alternatives.


Funding the Initiative

Funding is often a key to the success of JDAI programs.
While alternative programs are cheaper than detention, they do require an investment, and those making budgets should recognize that.
“It’s important that people take seriously the notion of reinvestment of those saved dollars,” LeBaron said. “That really is a core message of JDAI.”
The economic downturn may be a double-edged sword for detention alternatives supporters. On one hand, some jurisdictions may explore these options because they can save money, Young said. On the other hand, many jurisdictions may not have the money to invest in alternative programs, LeBaron said.
Lubow of the Casey Foundation called the economic situation a huge challenge.
“(JDAI) is a good government approach that will save taxpayer dollars so people in positions over budgets are loathe to do things that would undermine JDAI reforms because they know that that will come back in a budgetary form to bite them,” he said.
And, he said, many jurisdictions that have adopted the JDAI philosophy have been able to re-engineer existing budgets or make a compelling case for new investment.
“Most juvenile justice systems spend a lot of money on things that don’t work,” Lubow said. “If they are engaged in a process that makes them take a hard look at those investments and the way they are currently using resources, they typically can find money.”
Take New Mexico’s Bernalillo County, where former legislator Swisstack manages the juvenile detention center. His operational budget has remained flat since 2000. Community programs cost an average of $24.95 a day—$5 more for electronic monitoring—compared to a whopping $289 a day for detention, he said.
And while monetary investment helps, LeBaron said jurisdictions don’t have to have a lot of money up front to make change.
“It’s about reorganizing your current system in a way to ensure it’s functioning to its utmost capacity,” she said.
That’s important for the future, Swisstack said.
“I’ve tried to deal with the majority of the kids, the 82 percent or the 83 percent that if you start to concentrate on will become productive members of the community,” he said.
—Mary Branham is managing editor of State News magazine.
To learn more about New Jersey’s experience as a JDAI model site, visit Capitol Comments, CSG’s blog.


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