Tale of Two Reforms: Annie E. Casey’s JDAI aims to reduce detention. Could it spread nationwide?

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The daily juvenile detention population in Santa Clara County, Calif., has fallen 53 percent since 2001. Over the same time, the daily population in Santa Fe County, N.M., is up 36 percent.

What makes that puzzling is what the counties have in common: Their juvenile justice systems are part of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), one of the nation’s largest foundation-backed efforts to reform juvenile justice.

JDAI started as a project to reduce reliance on detention in one Florida county. After 15 years, 100 replication sites and $52 million, the Annie E. Casey Foundation believes it is ready to provide the initiative’s methods to any of the nation’s 500 or so detention centers by way of state-led JDAI reforms.

But states should proceed with caution. Santa Clara’s success is representative of virtually every site that has done JDAI independently. But Santa Fe’s struggles reflect something else, based on data provided by the foundation: JDAI detention reform on a state-led level has been inconsistent, especially when compared with the foundation’s direct work with counties.

JDAI Objectives

The Baltimore-based Casey Foundation began JDAI after working in the late 1980s to reduce the juvenile detention population in Broward County, Fla. As drug crimes and fear of youth reached a crescendo in the mid-1990s, the national propensity to detain youth in secure settings while their cases were hashed out went haywire.

JDAI Independent vs State/County Projects: Average Daily Population (Pre-JDAI vs. 2007)

Click on graph to enlarge.

The secure juvenile detention population in the United States rose 72 percent from 1985 to 1995, dangerously crowding many facilities and more than doubling the estimated annual costs of detention, to $820 million. In 1994 alone, 320,000 youth entered a facility that was already over population standards.

Bart Lubow, director of Casey’s Program for High-Risk Youth, says that a new mentality was born, based on the belief that “the path to public safety is paved with punishment.”

“The national fear of a juvenile crime wave and all of these ‘crack cocaine babies’ generated in our state a [detention] construction boom to get ready,” says Rand Young, JDAI coordinator for the state of Washington.

The boom was nationwide, led by $500 million in federal funds spent on juvenile facility construction from 1994 to 2000. (See “Reformers Flail at Lockup Boom,” December 2002, Youth Today.)

Who’s Involved: Almost every national juvenile justice organization is involved in at least one of the two reform initiatives. Some are funded by both.

Click on diagram to enlarge.

It is this sea change that JDAI has battled for nearly two decades. It offers communities this proposition: Using the initiative’s methods, a juvenile justice system can achieve maximum public safety by using detention only for the most dangerous or at-risk of its young offenders.

Each JDAI site must develop its own risk-assessment instrument, using a point system to determine which youth should be detained pending adjudication, based on the charges against them and other circumstances.

For example, Cook County (which includes Chicago) detains only youth who score 15 or above on its intake assessment. A violent felony charge, which itself carries a rating of 15 points, could trigger detention. But a combination of factors, such as a drug misdemeanor (rated at 3 points), a previous juvenile commitment (8 points) and detention in the past year (6 points) could also trigger detention.

Participating jurisdictions agree to analyze other aspects of their detention services, including the proportion of youth coming into centers who are minorities.

Casey’s Lubow estimates that the foundation has spent $50 million on JDAI over 15 years. The New York-based JEHT Foundation kicked in $2.5 million in 2005 to help Casey serve more locations.

Starting Local: Counties

The first replications beyond Broward County were all counties or cities seeking to implement JDAI independently. Almost all the counties that began the JDAI process have significantly reduced the number of juveniles in detention. Of the 16 counties that are active JDAI participants, 14 have lowered their average daily population (ADP), and 12 have done so by 20 percent or more. All but five lowered the average length of stay in detention as well.

Administrators in each of those counties knew they had a lot of room to improve: They sought out JDAI because they were detaining large numbers of youth. Of the sites for which data were provided by Casey, independent county projects accounted for nine of the 10 counties with the highest average populations before joining JDAI.

The newest local initiative, in Marion County (which includes Indianapolis), is already thriving. It reduced admissions to detention by 60 percent between 2004 and 2007, and ADP by 15 percent.

The counties were the bedrock of the initial replication phase, and Lubow believes it is this expansion that sets JDAI apart in juvenile justice.

Macaluso: State coordinators are “like Bobo dolls. We have conversations, get beat up, and pop back up for more.”

“I don’t think there’s a lot of positive history with replication [in juvenile justice],” says Lubow, who has led JDAI since its inception in 1992. “A lot of good ideas turn to sh*t.”

Indianapolis is likely to be the last project of its kind. Lubow says that the foundation plans to work exclusively with states as JDAI moves towards mass replication.

JDAI did not take on a state-level project until it tried Georgia in 2000, an attempt that quickly flamed out after the resignation of state Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner (and now JDAI consultant) Orlando Martinez. The agency tried to force some JDAI staples (namely, a screening instrument and case expediters) on all of the state’s 159 counties, some of which rely on the state for services and some of which run their own juvenile justice operations. Only two Georgia counties are current JDAI sites.

Casey learned a lot from that, Lubow says. “We were far less experienced in the replication business than we are now, and we did not have a time-tested model of replication to share or impose on them. I suspect that if we were doing Georgia again, we would be much more directive and prescriptive in laying out how we think replication can and should happen.”

Since then, state JDAI projects have generally consisted of groups of five counties.

Expanding Statewide

Working statewide is more efficient than committing to small projects, and such a shift falls in line with Casey’s desire for the program to become cheaper and more hands-off as it attempts to reach more systems. The foundation has also posted a collection of guides and assistance resources on its website (www.jdaihelpdesk.org), which Lubow believes will cut down on the need for technical assistance providers.

The problem is: Even using clusters of counties, JDAI efforts undertaken at the state level have shown mixed success.

Youth Today received data from 50 sites that were part of state JDAI efforts. Those that improved tended to do so in large fashion: Twenty-one of those 50 sites decreased their average daily population by 20 percent or more. But nearly one-third of those state sites showed no improvement in ADP and six showed increases of 20 percent or more. Only one independent site, Baltimore City, experienced such a dramatic increase in population after starting JDAI.

Some states, such as Washington and New Jersey, have succeeded at almost every JDAI site. All five participating counties in Washington have lowered their ADPs – four of them by more than 20 percent.

Among the first wave of New Jersey participants, three of five counties lowered ADP by 40 percent. Essex County, the largest detainer, with an average of 244 youths a day in detention before the reform began, cut its ADP in half.

“All of our sites have made drastic changes,” says Washington state coordinator Rand Young. “There has been a pretty serious paradigm shift in how juvenile justice is administered. The old model was … heavy use of detention and punishment. Now, the approach here is progressive: understanding kids are different in terms of risk levels and that not all kids should be treated the same.”

State Struggles

Other states, however, have struggled, offsetting highly successful projects with troubled ones. For example:

• Illinois made notable strides at three of its 10 sites, with drops in ADP above 20 percent But four sites made little progress or actually increased their average daily populations; two of those had increases in ADP of 93 percent and 69 percent.

• New Mexico’s state JDAI totals note a 4 percent increase in ADP, while Bernalillo County, which pursued JDAI independently, boasted a 35 percent decline over the course of its JDAI experience. It is one of JDAI’s model projects. Under the state program, two New Mexico counties improved their ADPs, but two others had large increases.

One problem, says Stephen Archuleta, New Mexico’s state JDAI coordinator: “We’re dealing with county commissions that change.” And each change in leadership requires re-education about JDAI.

“We try to work with them” and preach the societal and financial values of reducing detention, Archuleta says. He says he frames the pitch around this point: “If you build jails, we’ll fill it. But what are you really getting back?”

It is a pattern the foundation has noticed. Among the state and county coordinators for state JDAI projects, Lubow says, “there has been a great deal of variation in terms of its capacity to lead.”

The need to bring the state leaders up to speed was evident at JDAI’s annual conference in September, in Indianapolis: At a panel on state coordination, most of the audience consisted of new state coordinators of first- and second-year projects. More than one said they attended the panel simply “to learn what it is I’m supposed to be doing.”

New Jersey: A Model

Casey hopes to address that ambiguity by using its most successful statewide initiative – New Jersey, which plans to have JDAI implemented in every one of its counties by 2010. At the September conference, Casey designated New Jersey as the JDAI model state, which means coordinators and other JDAI stakeholders visit New Jersey to learn state-level coordination.

Duplicating New Jersey’s coordination will be a tough challenge. Its state coordinator, Lisa Macaluso, is director of local programs and services for the New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission and was a detention specialist for years before JDAI officially began there in 2004. The secret to success, she says, is having eyes in the field.

“We have detention staff at each and every site, tracking fidelity to the JDAI model,” Macaluso says. Other JDAI state coordinators might rely on personal visits or the word of county officials. Macaluso has a commission staff member in charge of tracking data and practice at each site (some staffers are assigned two sites), then reporting to her and the state JDAI steering committee.

“Having someone on ground like that, who reports to the state so we can see the big picture, has been very helpful,” she says.

As that happens, Macaluso’s day often includes verbal beat-downs on the phone from frustrated county officials, who aren’t always keen on letting so many youth stay in the community pending adjudication.

“We’re like Bobo dolls,” Macaluso explained to the state coordinator’s panel. “We have conversations, get beat up, and pop back up for more. Failure is not an option.”

The bad cop to Macaluso’s good cop is the state’s JDAI team leader, Paul DeMuro, a seasoned veteran of system reform. Team leaders like DeMuro are outsiders to state and county officials, separate from the politics and bureaucracy. So while Macaluso has to coax counties along as a state official, DeMuro has more freedom to call them out if he senses a lack of progress.

Ron Payne, the JDAI team leader for the Midwest, explained the role thusly: “I can say whatever I damn well please.”

Visits to New Jersey will show coordinators more details about how Macaluso and DeMuro have moved the state along. How much of those lessons gets transferred back home depends on the visitor.

“You can’t get a thin-skinned person to do this work,” Macaluso says.

Editor’s Note: Youth Today is a grantee of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.