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Alternatives to Youth Detention Conference Opens in Houston

Texas State Senator John Whitmire came to the podium last night at the opening of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) conference in Houston and got right to the core work of the JDAI. Five years ago, he said, 5,000 youth in Texas were incarcerated at any one time. Today the number is down to 1,500. It has happened, he said, without compromising public safety.

Photo: Texas Senate MediaThe JDAI is an initiative backed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and according to its press release, “In 2010, JDAI sites detained 42 percent fewer youth — approximately 2,400 — on an average day than they had prior to implementing approaches that include electronic monitoring, community monitoring, and day or evening reporting centers.”

Over the next two days, more than 700 invited judges, prosecutors, probation officers, academic researchers and community activists will attend sessions aimed at keeping even more kids nationwide out of incarceration.

The attendees, who come from among 150 JDAI sites in 34 states, will be offered some 40 panels and workshops with titles such as “Leadership Strategies to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Disparities” and “Making a Difference: Transforming the Lives of Court-Involved Youth.”

This conference follows on the heels of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Kids Behind Bars national symposium for journalists, where a sense of optimism seemed to prevail that this is an era for positive change for the juvenile justice. That’s the prevailing mode at the JDAI conference also.

However, as Whitmire, a conservative Democrat, pointed out, there is plenty of work to be done. His own focus is on decriminalizing truancy in schools and preventing kids from getting charged for disorderly conduct “for behavior that you and I would have had on our resumes.”

Photo: Texas Senate Media

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