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Locking Up Fewer Kids

The Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, now in 300 counties across the country including three in Kentucky, is reducing the juvenile detention population. Credit Greg Stotelmyer.
The Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, now in 300 counties across the country including three in Kentucky, is reducing the juvenile detention population. Credit Greg Stotelmyer.
October 6, 2015

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The idea that kids don't have to be locked up in order to reduce juvenile crime is a change in thinking that's spread across the country with the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI).

Louisville Metro Youth Detention Services is one of three JDAI pilot programs in Kentucky. Sytisha Claycomb, Jefferson County JDAI coordinator, says the initiative was implemented in Louisville in 2013.

"JDAI has really been about making sure you put the right kids in the right place at the right time," she says.

The initiative got its start in the early 1990s, and is now operating in nearly 300 counties across the country. Nate Balis, director of the Juvenile Justice Strategy Group at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, says it came about after decades of documented abuse in juvenile detention centers – and disparities regarding which kids 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 are there for the shortest amount of time."

Balis says JDAI sites have seen reductions in daily juvenile detention populations and detention sentencings, both by at least 40 percent, without any harm to public safety. Balis says the initiative has cut juvenile crime by almost half.

When JDAI leaders gathered for their annual conference last week, the focus was on reducing solitary confinement, which is also called "isolation," "segregation," or "seclusion." Research has shown it is particularly damaging to young people – teens have even died in such situations.

Claycomb says in Louisville they attempt to reduce confinement by using alternate solutions.

"It definitely should not be punitive or a retaliatory nature," he says. "It's really to be used to defuse a situation and a behavior."

The initiative was started by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY