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Florida Inspires National Model for Juvenile-Detention Reform

Keeping troubled kids in their community is credited for the success of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, which began in Florida. (Joanna Malinowska/Freestock)
Keeping troubled kids in their community is credited for the success of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, which began in Florida. (Joanna Malinowska/Freestock)
April 24, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — What began as an effort to revamp the approach to juvenile detention in one Florida county has spread to hundreds of sites across the country, and has led to widespread reform.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation's Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative launched in 1987 in Broward County, and just five years later had reduced the detention population by 65 percent without affecting public safety.

Christy Daly, who heads the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, said prior to implementing the reforms, too many kids were being locked up for minor offenses.

"Keeping them in their communities, with services and different types of interventions, we know through decades of research, you have better outcomes and those kids go on to be more successful,” Daly said.

Over the past 25 years, the JDAI program has expanded beyond Broward County to four other Florida counties - Duval, Hillsborough, Palm Beach, and Pinellas - and 300 sites nationwide. Daly said the results have been impressive, including a 47 percent decline in juvenile secure-detention admissions across the Florida sites.

According to Nate Balis, director of The Casey Foundation's Justice Strategy Group, not only does JDAI keep young people with their families and in their communities, it also helps save taxpayers money and streamline the legal process.

"Judges have been some of the biggest promoters of JDAI, because it's really allowed for a clear process for determining which kids on any given day should be held in secure detention,” Balis said. "It doesn't take away their discretion, but it actually informs them and helps them make confident decisions."

Daly said the program doesn't work in isolation, but rather through close collaboration between stakeholders to ensure that troubled young people get the support they need to succeed.

"We needed to make sure that our communities were strong and rich with resources, to be able to serve those kids that would no longer be going deeper into the system, there in the community,” Daly said.

The JDAI model reaches nearly one-fourth of the U.S. youth population, and has reduced the use of detention by more than 40 percent compared with baseline years among its 300 sites.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - FL