Monday, May 16, 2011

Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative comes to Wyoming

The Casper Star Tribune ran an article today on the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI). This program is designed to assist jurisdictions in reducing their reliance on secure detention (jail) for juveniles. There are 24 states that use the JDAI program and 100 individual sites. This reform program is one of the most successful and effective programs in reducing incarceration rates for juveniles and for providing alternatives to detention that allow for long lasting positive outcomes for kids.

The program is based on the following concepts:

• reduce reliance on secure confinement
• improve public safety
• reduce racial disparities and bias
• save taxpayers’ dollars
• stimulate overall juvenile justice reform

This program is based on over 15 years of successful experience and is exactly the program that Wyoming needs on a state wide basis to reduce reliance on the over-use of secure confinement for children. Unfortunately, as a result of Wyoming’s lack of uniform state-side planning and a uniform juvenile justice system some children in Wyoming will have the advantage of this evidence based program and other children will continue to be locked up.

Laramie, Sweetwater and Campbell Counties have decided to join this program and provide the best opportunities for their children. The spokesmen for the Wyoming Department of Family Services (DFS) stated that the goal of the program, which is jointly funded by The Casey foundation and DFS, is to create a statewide model for juvenile detention. The spokesmen went on the say that “it will help create a good… juvenile justice system with a lot of alternatives.”

This type of random program implementation has been going on with juvenile programs in the state for over 40 years and has resulted in the dreadful non-system that we currently have. Some counties will chose to join the initiative but most will not. Most counties will do what that have historically done and that is put kids in jail, even though its clear that putting kids in jail is the absolute worse thing you can do to them most counties will continue to use jail as their only “system”. They will do this because that is what they have always done, because they don’t want to spend the money on children that it will take to initiate reform, because they don’t have the money and there is no stable funding source or because they don’t believe in the evidence and believe that the best place for a troubled kid is in jail. They will do this because they can.

Laramie County, a county that already has a good program for kids, wants a better program. In planning for the new juvenile detention center the Chairman of the Joint Powers Board, Jeff Lamm stated: “We didn’t want to just build a center; we wanted to rebuild a system.” In the Casper Star Tribune's article, Mr. Lamm went on to state: “You want to set up a good, integrated system…. So you can treat every kid based on their needs”. Wouldn’t it be great if our legislators and public officials felt that way about every child in Wyoming? Isn’t that the way they should feel?