Catching Up with JDAI

It had been awhile since we got up to speed on the general goings-on of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the single largest JJ reform effort in U.S. history. So we called up Bart Lubow, Casey’s director of programs for high-risk youth, for an update. A few nuggets we gleaned from that conversation:

1) The closure of the JEHT Foundation was a major setback for JDAI. Back in December, JJ Today reported on the past relationship of JEHT and Casey on JDAI. When JEHT went under, it had recently finished a three-year, $2.5 grant to Casey for expansion of the initiative.

What we did not know is that the partnership was already slated to continue. Two weeks before JEHT operations came to an abrupt halt, its board had approved a new three year, $3.7 million grant to Casey. The grant would have been spread around multiple aspects of JDAI, including direct grants to active sites for capacity building, expansion to new places, and the annual JDAI conference (which will be in Washington this year). At least one new major state project was targeted in Casey’s proposal to JEHT.

“They were a major co-investor and exceedingly generous,” Lubow said. Tough to lose a supporter of that ilk at a time like this. The gist we got from Lubow was that no existing aspect of JDAI would go away because of the JEHT closure, but it does put limits on plans for new ventures.

2) One new plan JDAI will act on is work on post-adjudication. At last year’s annual JDAI conference in Indianapolis, Lubow announced that some JDAI sites will be supported in efforts to change the way states operate the secure facilities that serve as the “defining face of the juvenile justice system,” The goal, he said: “to test the hypothesis that we can eliminate the model of the large training school.”

The goal for this year likely will be to provide tools and resources to JDAI sites on how effectively to divert youth at the dispositional phase. “The data already indicate that JDAI sites tend to reduce out-of-home placements at disposition somewhat organically,” Lubow said.

Another aspect of that work will be some outreach to media and policymakers on two fronts. First, Lubow said, will involve “documenting and getting more into the mainstream about the horrible story of American training schools.” Second, he wants to “write up what a good dispositional system would look like … take a genuine dispositional caseload and say, here’s how this caseload ends up now and here’s how it might look” if it were handled better.

In Indianapolis, Lubow mentioned the possibility of actual demonstration projects, where a  state would commit to working with Casey on a mission of closing training schools and moving in a more progressive direction. That aspect is probably on hold, he said; JEHT surely would have been a co-investor on that, and there isn’t a state at the moment that seems eager to make drastic changes that could cost money in the short term (although some California advocates believe it’s time for their state system to go away for good).

3) Expect new sites soon in Mississippi, Florida and Rhode Island. Mississippi is already official; the fundamentals training began on June 2. Florida is really close. “We are near the very end of the engagement process with them,” said Lubow, who recently met in Tampa with JJ boss Frank Peterman to get clarification on a few points. “I suspect we’ll try to do reform starting later this year.” Rhode Island is less far along, Lubow said, but is a “strong possibility” for 2010.

Other states that might be in the JDAI mix soon are Indiana (which recently indicated strong interest in replicating the highly successful Indianapolis project), and Ohio. The latter would be an enormous undertaking if it included Cuyahoga and Franklin Counties, which are home to Cleveland and Columbus respectively.

5) New Jersey-as-Model State has not developed, yet. The state that has been the best coordinated state JDAI effort was selected last year to serve as the model site for other statewide projects. But that has been “a little slower than we’d have hoped coming online,” Lubow said. The goal now is to have states visiting by the end of this summer.



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