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Information on Children and the Law

Kids Count

October 24, 2012

Contact: Nancy Parello, (973) 643-3876, (908) 399-6031,

Use of Juvenile Lock-up Plummets; Public Safety Maintained

The number of juveniles who land in jail has dropped dramatically over the past eight years, saving millions in taxpayer dollars, while maintaining public safety and putting more youth on a path to productive adulthood, according to a new report by Advocates for Children of New Jersey.

The Kids Count Special Report: Juvenile Justice found that in 2011, New Jersey locked up about 6,000 fewer juveniles in one year than it did prior to the start of an initiative to reduce New Jersey’s overuse of juvenile detention. On any given day in 2011, 446 fewer youth spent time in a New Jersey county detention center.

Instead, most youth are now diverted to detention alternatives, such as electronic and in-home monitoring systems, day and evening reporting centers and other non-detention means of supervision. In addition, many of these young people are provided with services, such as job training and mentoring, to address the issues that led to criminal behavior, as well as given supports to meet the conditions of their probation.

“For years, New Jersey locked up thousands of juveniles, often for minor, non-violent crimes, warehousing them in overcrowded, unsafe detention centers,” said Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey. “Today, we have a system that largely uses detention for only the most serious offenders.”

“This has resulted in a juvenile justice system that is smarter, safer and saving taxpayer dollars,” Zalkind said. “The success of the detention alternatives initiative should be used to inform and guide future juvenile justice reforms.”

Known as the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), this national project, led by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, has fostered a fundamental shift in the way judges, prosecutors, public defenders, probation officers and others involved in the juvenile justice system handle these cases. The focus is now on returning youth to their communities quickly and safely, while preventing them from re-offending and violating probation. The initiative started in 2004 in five counties. By 2011, 15 counties were part of the initiative. This year, Gloucester joined for a total of 16 counties now participating.

Research shows that youth who are detained are more likely to commit another crime, more likely to have trouble in school and will encounter more difficulty in finding a job. The research also provides no evidence that putting children in detention improves public safety.

The Kids Count report examined trends in 15 “JDAI” counties, measuring change pre- and post-implementation. Key findings include:

 Juvenile arrests declined 33 percent; juvenile arrests for serious offenses, such as murder and rape, dropped 22 percent.
 In 2011, 83 percent of youth who were diverted from detention met the conditions of their release.
 Just 3 percent of youth re-offended while in a detention alternative.
 The number of detention admissions for probation violations, which are typically minor offenses, plummeted 65 percent.
 In 2010, detention centers operated at 60 percent of capacity -- a 38 percent decrease since 2003.

Saving Taxpayer Dollars
In addition to improving outcomes for youth, the initiative is saving taxpayers millions of dollars that had been spent on detaining youth. The Juvenile Justice Commission has seen its population shrink by 61 percent since the initiative began. It costs $136,000 per year to detain one youth in a JJC facility, according to the New Jersey State Budget, FY 2013.

Counties spend an estimated $200 per day to lock up one youth. With roughly 400 fewer youth in detention on any given day, many counties are reaping significant savings. In addition, detention use in four counties – Passaic, Gloucester, Monmouth and Mercer – dropped so dramatically that these counties closed their detention centers and are now sending youth who must be detained to neighboring counties. This has resulted in an estimated $16 million in savings each year, according to figures submitted by counties to the Juvenile Justice Commission. Some counties have reinvested these savings into programs and services that can help at-risk youth – a smart investment that pays dividends for years to come, the Kids Count report said.

“The savings reaped from the center closings should be reinvested in these communities to ensure youth receive the services they need to steer clear of legal trouble and become productive members of their communities,” Zalkind said.

In addition, ACNJ urges counties to retrofit the closed centers, as well as those operating below capacity, for other purposes that can help youth.  “This presents an incredible opportunity for counties to retrofit these centers to serve as shelters, evening reporting centers, forensic mental health facilities and other uses that can greatly benefit youth,” Zalkind said. “It is critical that we build on this success to ensure all youth are given the opportunity to succeed.”

The initiative is a partnership among state agencies, including the Juvenile Justice Commission (JJC), which leads the effort, the Attorney General’s Office, the Judiciary and the Office of the Public Defender, and the counties.

View the full report.

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