|TRENTON – Recently, the Juvenile Justice Commission (JJC) notified Cape May County that it has been selected as New Jersey’s seventeenth Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) replication site. In March, the Board of Chosen Freeholders of Cape May County passed a resolution expressing its desire to participate in JDAI, and the county submitted a letter of interest and completed the JDAI Readiness Assessment, as application to become a New Jersey JDAI site. Representatives of the JJC and the Administrative Office of the Courts reviewed the application, and selected Cape May County as New Jersey’s newest JDAI site.
In April 2004, New Jersey was selected as an official replication site for the Annie E. Casey Foundation’ s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative and was awarded an annual grant of up to $200,000 by the Foundation. As the lead agency, the JJC works in partnership with the Judiciary, and other state and local agencies through the statewide Council on Juvenile Justice System Improvement (CJJSI), which guides the statewide initiative. Each participating county also relies on a local county council for collaboration, leadership, and data to make improvements in the local juvenile justice system.
“JDAI has proven successful at reducing the number of youth in detention without jeopardizing community safety,” said Chief Justice Stuart Rabner. “We are delighted that this initiative is expanding into Cape May County, bringing us one step closer to full statewide implementation.”
"By implementing the principles of JDAI throughout the entire state, we ensure that youth who come in contact with the juvenile justice system are treated fairly and consistently, eliminating the possibility of 'justice by geography' and maximizing each young person's chances for turning his or her life around," said Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman. "Welcoming Cape May County into New Jersey's JDAI network gets us one step closer to that goal."
“Collaboration among all juvenile justice stakeholder groups is a critical component of JDAI. We were pleased to see that Cape May’s application indicated that the Judiciary, County Government, Prosecutor’s Office, and Public Defender’s Office, all support the county’s participation in this initiative,” said Kevin M. Brown, Executive Director, JJC. “Cape May seems well-positioned to begin the challenging work of juvenile justice system reform.”
JDAI is a nationally acclaimed initiative that has been successfully implemented in numerous jurisdictions around the country. The goal of JDAI is to improve the juvenile justice system and outcomes for youth through the implementation of eight core strategies. Centered on detention policies and practices, this data-driven approach requires jurisdictions to participate in an ongoing, critical analysis of their juvenile justice system. Through this process, issues are identified, strategies are implemented, and outcomes are tracked to ensure that the changes made are achieving desired goals.
Julio L. Mendez, Cape May and Atlantic County Assignment Judge stated, “I am pleased with the collaboration between the Judiciary and all the stakeholders to make JDAI a priority and a reality in Cape May County. I want to thank the Freeholder Board for their commitment to the program, and I want to express my appreciation for the leadership of Freeholder Director Gerald M. Thornton in moving the efforts to implement JDAI forward for youth of Cape May County. We are all committed to working together to achieve successful JDAI outcomes in Cape May County.”
Gerald M. Thornton, Freeholder Director stated, “Cape May County has a long history of collaboration between agencies and systems to improve outcomes for our residents. We are committed to the JDAI initiative and will be getting reports from our Youth Services Commission as the process unfolds. I am sure this will have a meaningful and productive impact on the juvenile justice system in our county.”
Juvenile detention is the temporary placement of a youth accused of a delinquent act, while awaiting the final outcome of his or her case in court. The purpose of detention is to house youths who, by virtue of their alleged offenses or documented prior histories, pose serious threats to public safety or are thought to be flight risks. A primary goal of JDAI is to make sure that secure detention is used only to ensure that serious and chronic youthful offenders are detained, and that effective alternatives are available for other youth who can be safely supervised in the community while awaiting final court disposition.
The average daily population of youth in detention in JDAI sites has decreased by more than half, with youth of color accounting for about 90 percent of this drop. Over the past several years, an average of less than 5 percent of youth were discharged from a detention alternative program as the result of a new delinquency charge, an indicator that JDAI public safety goals are being met. In fact, a review of the most recent Uniform Crime Report data indicates that juvenile arrests are down in all sites as compared to each site’s pre-JDAI year.
With the addition of Cape May, 17 New Jersey counties are implementing JDAI: Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, Passaic, Somerset, Union and Warren. Of the 17 counties, 9 currently operate secure juvenile detention centers.
Implementing JDAI will allow Cape May to formalize current detention policies and practices that are having positive outcomes, implement mechanisms to ensure measurement of those outcomes going forward, and examine all decision points in the juvenile justice process to determine where additional improvements can be made. Plans are underway to hold a Cape May JDAI kick-off meeting that will determine the initial course action.
The results achieved through these JDAI partnerships have brought New Jersey significant recognition. While nationally JDAI is operational in 39 states, New Jersey is the only state to be designated as a national model for detention reform by the Casey Foundation. This designation was bestowed upon NJ in late 2008 as a result of the impressive outcomes New Jersey has achieved since JDAI inception. New Jersey receives funding from the Casey Foundation to support JDAI, and to specifically conduct two-day working sessions with delegations from other states interested in replicating New Jersey’s JDAI success. To date, delegations from nine states, including Arizona, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, and Nebraska have participated in New Jersey’s JDAI “Model Site” Program.