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
with visits to four sites in the summer of 2007. The sites visited were
. 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.
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
, 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
The JDAI experience has filtered throughout all levels of juvenile
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
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.
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.