JDAI Nation Map

 About JDAI

The Pretrial Justice Institute in partnership with the Annie E. Casey Foundation operates the JDAI Helpdesk.

In 1992, as a step towards meeting its vision, the Annie E. Casey Foundation established the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative. Using detention as an entry point strategy, its primary target is overall juvenil​e justice system improvement. Beginning with a handful of jurisdictions, the J​DAI core strategies were proven to reduce unnecessary and inappropriate secure detention, reduce costs, increase system fairness and improve the juvenile justice system overall without compromising public safety. Today, reform efforts are under way in over 200 jurisdictions in 39 states and the District of Columbia, and JDAI is now operational in those places responsible for almost 75 percent of th​e country's detained population.

The Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) is designed to address the efficiency and effectiveness of juvenile detention across the United States. JDAI demonstrates that communities can improve their detention systems without sacrificing public safety. The goals of JDAI are to:
  • decrease the number of youth unnecessarily or inappropriately detained;
  • reduce the number of youth who fail to appear in court or re-offend pending adjudication;
  • redirect public funds towards effective juvenile justice processes and public safety strategies;
  • reduce the disproportionate minority confinement and contact of the juvenile justice system; and,
  • improve the juvenile justice system overall.

JDAI is a process, not a conventional program, which means JDAI helps restructure policy and practice to create system improvements that reach far beyond detention alone. JDAI sites have demonstrated safe reductions in the number of youth detained through a set of interrelated strategies which include:
  1. collaboration among juvenile justice agencies, community organizations and other govenrment agencies;
  2. the use of data in making policy and case-level decisions;
  3. objective instruments to guide detention decisions;
  4. operation of a continuum of non-secure detention alternatives;
  5. case processing efficiencies to reduce time between arrest and case dis-position; improvement of conditions of confinement;
  6. safe reductions of special populations (e.g. violations of probation, warrants and cases awaiting placement);
  7. racial/ethnic fairness in policy and case-level decision-making; and,
  8. improving conditions of confinement.

By systematically addressing each of these areas, JDAI has proven that juvenile detention rates can be dramatically reduced without a corresponding increase in juvenile crime.

Read more about JDAI's eight core strategies here. Want more details on how to implement JDAI? Visit our Practice Guides and Pathways to Juvenile Detention Reform Series.

For more overview on JDAI or to order hard copies of any JDAI publication visit the Annie E. Casey Foundation's JDAI section.​​

 Putting the Spotlight on Juvenile Detention – Why is Reform Needed?

Each year, more than 2 million arrests are made of youth, resulting in approximately 300,000 to 600,000 admissions to secure detention. Of these children detained, two thirds are racial or ethnic minorities, arrested at rates that are out of proportion to the rate of their unlawful behavior. Roughly a quarter of children detained are acutely mentally ill. Eighty percent of girls detained report physical abuse and 50 percent report sexual abuse. JDAI's vision is to handle these children differently and appropriately.

Studies of juvenile detention reveal a system that is arbitrary, discriminatory, and ineffective. In the decade before JDAI was launched, detention populations increased by more than 70 percent, even though there was no corresponding increase in juvenile crime. By the beginning of the 1990's, two out of every three youth admitted to secure detention was entering a place that was crowded, that could not provide the kinds of custody and care that case law and professional standards require. Less than a third of youth in detention were charged with violent crimes. And, by 1995, almost two-thirds of detained youth were youth of color, a percentage that was disproportionate to both their percentage in the general population and their percentage of youth arrested.

Detention is a growing expense in most jurisdictions. In some places, the average cost to operate a detention bed exceeds $70,000 annually, and experts estimate that the cost of building, financing and operating a single bed over twenty years is in the range of $1.25 to $1.5 million. As expensive to operate as they are, detention centers do not ensure the rehabilitation of the young people they hold nor do they always ensure their safety while detained.

Research has shown that lowering juvenile detention populations are commensurate with improved public safety strategies. Research also shows that there is a likelihood kids will have a much greater chance of avoiding adult criminal if they are diverted from secure detention to community alternatives.
  • Research by the Oregon Social Learning Center has shown that when youth are congregated together for treatment, they are more likely to have worse short term behavior and fare worse as adults in their employment, family stability, and interpersonal relationships than youth treated individually.
  • Another study of youth in Arkansas showed that prior incarceration was the strongest predictor of future incarceration.

In contrast to the impact that overuse of detention has on young people, the communities that reduced detention populations through JDAI, experienced the same or greater crime drop than that experienced in the rest of the United States.

By focusing attention to detention, the spotlight is shined on the gateway to deeper involvement in the system. By safely minimizing detention, local personnel and officials can effectively minimize unnecessary penetration of youth into the system and free up abundant and wastefully spent public resources.​​​

 About JDAI Resources

JDAI Helpdesk at the Pretrial Justice Institute
305 Main Street, Suite 200
Gaithersburg, MD 20878
Tel: 240-477-7152 | E-mail: jdaihelpdesk@pretrial.org