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Conference Examines Juvenile Justice Reforms

Experts from around the country are in Phoenix to talk about juvenile justice reform. Credit: jodylehigh/
Experts from around the country are in Phoenix to talk about juvenile justice reform. Credit: jodylehigh/
September 28, 2015

PHOENIX - You don't have to lock kids up to reduce juvenile crime. It's a change in thinking that's spread across the country with the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, referred to as JDAI.

Professionals who work with young people are in Phoenix this week to discuss the successes of the program, which is in place in seven Arizona counties and 38 states.

Annie E. Casey Foundation Juvenile Justice Strategy Group director Nate Balis says the program 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, and making sure young people who are in detention are in environments that are safe and that they're there for the shortest amount of time," says Balis.

One focus of the conference is ending solitary confinement, which is also called "isolation," "segregation," or "seclusion." Research has shown it is damaging to young people and teens have even died in such situations.

Balis says JDAI sites have seen reductions in daily juvenile detention populations and declines in detention sentencings, both by at least 40 percent. Additionally, he says public safety is still top of mind.

"It's been accomplished without any harm to public safety, and in fact if we look across sites, we see juvenile crime down by almost half since they started JDAI," says Balis.

The conference will also include a discussion on closing all youth prisons because of widespread maltreatment. The Annie E. Casey Foundation sponsors the conference.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - AZ