What is Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI)?

Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) helps establish more effective and efficient systems to accomplish the purpose of juvenile detention by eliminating inappropriate or unnecessary use of secure detention, minimize failures to appear and incidence of delinquent behavior, redirect public finances to successful reform strategies, and improve conditions in secure detention facilities.

In 1993, the Annie E. Casey Foundation began detention reform efforts by implementing JDAI core strategies.  JDAI eight key strategies assisting in guiding the work include;

  • Collaboration
  • Data Driven Policy and Program Decisions
  • Admissions Policy
  • Case Processing
  • Alternatives to Detention
  • Special Populations
  • Focus on Eliminating Racial Disparities
  • Conditions of Confinement

Why are JDAI efforts important?

On a national level, youth of color are increasingly singled out by the criminal justice system with harsh and disparate treatment at all stages of the juvenile justice system.  Data conducted at a national, state, and local level demonstrate the over-representation of youth of color in the juvenile justice system.  The proportion of youth of color when compared to Anglo youth presents the disproportionality and disparate treatment.  Youth of color are incarcerated in jails and prisons at a rate 2 to 3 times of Anglo youth at a national, state, and local level.  Initial disparities at arrest are compounded by disparities that occur later in the process.  When added together, these disparities, even if they are relatively small at each stage, can produce large negative effects. 

The national trend of getting ‘tough on crime’ initiated in the mid-1980’s resulting in a geometric increase in detention beds.  Within Pima County, the detention capacity increased over the last five years from 88 beds to a 306 bed capacity.  Data analysis and best practices approach to Court management have resulted in a comprehensive review of juvenile crime trends and current detention usage.  PCJCC efforts and implementation of the JDAI key strategies have led to a significant reduction in the daily youth population as demonstrated in the charts below.

Referrals and Detentions 2000-2010 graph

Daily Detention Average Graph

Good communication and cultural understanding are prerequisites to a fair, efficient, and effective justice system. Culture differences between youth of color and justice system personnel may foster misunderstandings that lead to inappropriate and harsher treatment.

As the Spanish-speaking population of the United States increases, the need for bilingual services for youth in the justice system also increases.  For individuals who speak little or no English, legal procedures must be explained in Spanish and documents must be translated.  Spanish-speaking parents are cut off from communicating with their children and with decision makers in the system if bilingual staff and services are not available. 

In addition, assessment tools (e.g., risk, psychological, and educational) may not be culture-neutral and appropriate to the individuals being assessed, and professionals who administer and interpret the results may not be trained in cultural differences.

PCJCC has been engaged with JDAI since 2004 and has demonstrated the effectiveness of objective admissions, alternatives to detention, data driven decision-making, collaboration, case processing, DMC, and conditions of confinement.  PCJCC has completed its second JDAI Detention Self-Inspection.  Results continue to guide our improvement efforts and reflect the principle of treating all youth detained with respect, fairness, and professionalism in promoting better outcomes.

The work of JDAI is executed with the goal of community safety.  The chart below demonstrates how PCJCC continues to impact youth in a positive manner without compromising the safety of our neighborhoods and community.
 Delinquency Arrest Graph


Between 1985 and 2004 detention capacity has doubled across the nation – this was in response to juvenile crime trends of the 1980’s and early 1990’s.

Detention should be used for high-risk juveniles (risk to community safety or flight).

Detention is a harmful experience for many youth.

Many children currently referred to detention should receive instead services outside of detention, within a community setting.

An increasing number of children with mental health issues are being detained. 

Minority children are disproportionately represented within our juvenile justice continuum.

Principal activities engaged in by PCJCC to reduce our detention population:

  • Engagement with the Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF) to become a JDAI replication site
  • Development of base line data to drive intervention planning.
  • Structuring a Juvenile Justice Executive Board and a Juvenile Justice Advisory Workgroup
  • Redefinition of the DMC executive committee to include JDAI oversight.
  • Coordination of the W. Haywood Burns Institute DMC effort with the AECF detention initiative – the first national effort to simultaneously begin these initiatives.
  • Redesign of the detention Risk Assessment Instrument (RAI).
  • Outreach to court staff with JDAI information