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Administrative Office of Courts
300 Dexter Ave.
Montgomery, Al 36104
1-866-954-9411
(334) 954-5000

Family Court

JUVENILE DETENTION REFORM: ALABAMA’S SUCCESS STORY!

 The Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) is a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and is designed to support their vision that all youth involved in the juvenile justice system have opportunities to develop into healthy, productive adults.

 JDAI focuses on the incarceration component of the juvenile justice system because children who are unnecessarily or inappropriately detained are done so at great expense, and often with long-lasting unintended consequences for both public safety and youth development. 

JDAI began in Alabama with visits to four sites in the summer of 2007. The sites visited were Mobile , Montgomery , Tuscaloosa , and Birmingham . After the initial site visits, all four sites were chosen to participate in the JDAI   project. The Annie E. Casey Foundation then awarded the State, through the Administrative Office of Courts, a grant of $150,000 to begin the project. Those funds were distributed to the four selected counties to help offset costs incurred in commencing the detention alternatives reform efforts. Through the efforts of Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, the AOC was able to attain an equal amount from Governor Bob Riley’s office for the first year, as a match to the Casey grant. One of the great benefits of JDAI has been in the inter-branch cooperation between the Judicial and Executive branches of government in our state.

 Alabama built on this collaboration by incorporating the Casey Foundation’s vision with the practical experience of a retired Circuit Court Judge and the dedication of other Juvenile and Family Court Judges and staff. Under the leadership of Judge John Davis, Retired Family Court Judge in Montgomery County , JDAI principles began to take root. Judge Davis assisted the Juvenile/Family Court Judge and JDAI Coordinator in each of the four sites to understand the concepts and rewards of objective admissions, alternatives to detention, accurate and timely data collection, and other core strategies of the JDAI model. Judge Davis is often cited as the guide post of this initiative by those involved in this reform effort. “Judge Davis had the credibility to implement this project and the enthusiasm to keep you believing that it could be done,” stated current Chief Justice Charles R. Malone. “The work he and our four site judges have accomplished is nothing short of phenomenal.”

In 2008, JDAI sites experienced dramatic drops in the average daily population of children in secure confinement, with some sites experiencing 40% reductions – the reductions have remained constant through 2011. By continually applying the goals of JDAI statewide, there has been a similar sustained decrease in youth admitted to all juvenile detention facilities, not only in the four designated JDAI counties.

 

 The JDAI experience has filtered throughout all levels of juvenile justice in Alabama. Through collaboration and partnership with the Department of Youth Services (DYS), admissions to DYS have dropped 47%, from over 3300 to fewer than 1800, since the beginning of the JDAI project.  “DYS has been supporting the statewide JDAI effort as a part of DYS’s work on juvenile justice system reform since its inception,” said Walter Wood, Director of the Department of Youth Services. “By partnering with AOC to promote discussion about appropriate use of detention and services for children, DYS is meeting its obligation to assist local courts in developing more effective programming for troubled youth and, in doing so, working to reduce the number of youth who end up in the deep end of the system: a state juvenile or adult correctional facility,” he added.

Alabama is poised to take the lessons learned in this experience and to continue the work going    forward. Even through significant budget and staff reductions in the courts and at DYS, the success of JDAI has remained a constant source of encouragement and success to the executive and judicial branches of government. Because of the vision and leadership demonstrated by this project scores of children and their families will benefit from innovations begun through JDAI.  Alabama may well become a model state for the Casey Foundations continued juvenile justice reform efforts which will lead other states to replicate our JDAI success story.