COLUMBUS – You don’t have to lock up young people to reduce juvenile crime. It’s a change in thinking that’s spread across the country with the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI).
Professionals who work with young people are in Phoenix, Arizona this week at the JDAI 2015 Inter-Site Conference to discuss the success of the program – in place in eight Ohio counties and 38 other states.
Casey Foundation Juvenile Justice Strategy Group director Nate Balis says the program came about after decades of documented abuse in juvenile detention centers, and disparities regarding which youths were being locked up.
“Ensuring that it’s done equitably in terms of gender, and particularly race and ethnicity,” he says. “And making sure that young people who are in detention are in environments that are safe, and that they’re there for the shortest amount of time.”
The conference will also include a discussion on closing all youth prisons because of widespread maltreatment.
The Casey Foundation sponsors the conference. Balis says JDAI sites have seen reductions in daily juvenile detention populations, and declines in detention sentencings – both by at least 40 percent.
He adds that public safety is still top of mind.
“It’s been accomplished without any harm to public safety,” he says. “In fact, if we look across sites, we see juvenile crime down by almost half since they started JDAI.”
One focus of the conference is ending solitary confinement, as research has shown it is damaging to young people – teens have even died in such situations. Under an agreement reached with the Department of Justice last year, Ohio agreed to reduce the use of solitary confinement and eventually eliminate the use of the practice.