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Program Cuts Number of AZ Kids in Juvenile Detention in Half

The Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative in Arizona helps kids and families get needed services and keeps many out of detention facilities. (Youth Justice Coalition)
The Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative in Arizona helps kids and families get needed services and keeps many out of detention facilities. (Youth Justice Coalition)
April 10, 2017

PHOENIX -- In recent years, the juvenile detention population has been cut in half - in Arizona and across the country - in areas that use the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative.

The program, launched 25 years ago this month by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, tracks data and gets agencies working together to divert eligible young people into community programs that save money and get better results. Nate Balis, director of the Juvenile Justice Strategy Group with the Casey Foundation, said the juvenile justice system needs to find ways to help kids overcome their challenges and stay in the community, rather than focusing primarily on punishment.

"The recidivism results alone from locking kids up demonstrate that almost anything we do with kids in the community can work better than putting kids in locked facilities, and removing them from the people who they love,” Balis said.

Eight of Arizona's 15 counties have JDAI teams in place, and the results are impressive. In 2011, more than 11,000 kids were in county juvenile detention centers awaiting disposition of their cases, mostly on charges for low-level crimes or violating probation. By 2016, that number was down to 5,300.

Statistics show no accompanying rise in crime - in fact, it has decreased. Youth detention rates have also gone down in counties that don't use JDAI, but only by about half as much.

Angie Lopez, a statewide coordinator for JDAI, said the program includes special trainers to make sure the system doesn't discriminate against youth of color.

"They help in probation, law enforcement, Department of Child Safety, county attorneys, public defenders; help them develop some specific strategies to address where, through the data, it looks like disproportionality or disparities exist,” Lopez said.

In Arizona, the programs that help divert kids away from detention include evening probation check-in centers in Tucson and Queen Creek, the Hope Assessment Center in Yuma County and the Domestic Violence Alternatives Center in Tucson.

JDAI coordinators from across the country are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the initiative at a conference in Miami this weekend.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - AZ