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Program Keeping Juveniles Out of Detention Celebrates VA Success

Data from The Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that locking up juvenile offenders when they are not really a threat can change the young person for life. (Richard Ross/AECF)
Data from The Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that locking up juvenile offenders when they are not really a threat can change the young person for life. (Richard Ross/AECF)
April 13, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. – A program to help keep juvenile offenders out of pre-trial detention is showing big results for Virginia.

The state and some local jurisdictions have worked with The Annie E. Casey Foundation's Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative since 2003.

Beth Stinnett, program manager for the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, says using JDAI data and standards, the state has been able to reduce predisposition detention by nearly 60 percent without seeing a rise in new offenses or failures to appear.

More importantly, she says keeping those young people from being locked up at the front end can change their trajectory for life.

"Placing them in secure detention, we disconnect them from their pro-social peers, their pro-social adults,” she points out. “We interrupt their schooling. We do absolutely run the risk that we're doing more harm than good."

JDAI is turning 25 this weekend. In the last quarter century, it's become part of a national movement to reform juvenile justice, with a huge impact in Virginia and around the country.

Nate Balis, director of the Juvenile Justice Strategy Group with the Casey Foundation, says states are doing a better job of figuring out which young offenders need to be locked up, and which can wear an ankle monitor or check in at a day reporting center. He says across the country, JDAI means 3,800 fewer young people locked up on any given night.

"JDAI has proven to be a no-brainer for jurisdictions around the country,” he states. “It is not a jail break. It's something that allows for jurisdictions to make sure that we're not holding kids one day more than they need to be."

JDAI has helped Virginia in a long-term project to reform the states' whole juvenile-justice system, according to Jenna Easton, statewide JDAI coordinator for the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice. And she says detention can be 10 times as expensive as the alternatives.

"Not only does putting kids in detention unnecessarily increase their likelihood of re-offending, it also is not a cost effective approach to working with kids," she states.

Easton says it's important to reduce detentions at the front end of the juvenile justice system, because lower numbers there tend to carry all the way through.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA