Youth in the Juvenile Justice System

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Begun in the 1990s as a pilot project to reduce reliance on local confinement of court-involved youth, the JDAI change model was implemented by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and is now operating in nearly 300 counties nationwide, dramatically reducing detention facility populations.

The goal of JDAI as a systems-change initiative is to create more effective and efficient processes surrounding the use of detention.

A primary goal of JDAI is to make sure that secure detention is used for serious and chronic youthful offenders, and that effective alternatives are available for other youth who can be safely supervised in the community while awaiting final court disposition.

JDAI also works to redirect resources toward successful reform strategies and to improve conditions of confinement in detention facilities for those youth who require this most secure level of supervision.

Core Strategies:

  1. Promoting collaboration between juvenile court officials, probation agencies, prosecutors, defense attorneys, schools, community organizations and advocates;

  2. Using rigorous data collection and analysis to guide decision making;

  3. Utilizing objective admissions criteria and risk-assessment instruments to replace subjective decision-making processes to determine whether youth should be placed into secure detention facilities;

  4. Implementing new or expanded alternatives to detention programs — such as day and evening reporting centers, home confinement and shelter care — that can be used in lieu of locked detention;

  5. Instituting case processing reforms to expedite the flow of cases through the system;

  6. Reducing the number of youth detained for probation rule violations or failing to appear in court, and the number held in detention awaiting transfer to a residential facility;

  7. Combatting racial and ethnic disparities by examining data to identify policies and practices that may disadvantage youth of color at various stages of the process, and pursuing strategies to ensure a more level playing field for youth regardless of race or ethnicity;

  8. Monitoring and improving conditions of confinement in detention facilities.


  • If we can predict the causes and trends of juvenile delinquency, we can concentrate our efforts and limited resources more effectively.

  • Researchers have found that, by analyzing data, we can measure trends in victimization as well as delinquent behavior.

  • There is no method of data collection that accurately captures the amount of crime that occurs in society, but collecting the data in the same way from year to year can accurately capture increases and decreases in crime rates.

We need to look at the whole picture!

    • Identify risk factors in early childhood
    • Invest in programs that help parents and children develop healthy relationships and attitudes
    • Identify teenagers that are high risk for delinquency
    • Provide programs and support services to steer them away from the negative path they’re on
    • Provide immediate consequences that are relevant to the seriousness of the offense
    • Limit the most restrictive sanctions to the most dangerous offenders
    • Provide individualized services to a small number of participants


How did WE get here?

In 2004, the Annie E. Casey Foundation selected New Jersey to be among the first states to replicate JDAI. The New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission (JJC) is the lead agency for JDAI in New Jersey, providing the management and staffing infrastructure integral to New Jersey’s success as a JDAI site.

At the STATE LEVEL, the New Jersey Council on Juvenile Justice System Improvement, whose members are jointly appointed by the JJC Executive Director and the Administrative Director of the New Jersey Courts, oversees JDAI and considers statewide policy and practice reforms.

COUNTY COUNCILS on Juvenile Justice System Improvement are directly responsible for implementing local reform strategies. Through data collection and planning, County Councils are eligible to apply for funding through the State Council, in order to address barriers and gaps at detention point of the continuum.

In 2008, The Somerset County Coordinating Council for Juvenile Justice System Improvement (SCCCJJSI) was formed, and created subcommittees to explore four areas of possible improvement: 

  • Case processing
  • Detention alternatives
  • Disproportionate minority contact/special populations
  • and Probation supervision 

Federal Government Juvenile Justice Programs and Reforms:


Established by Congress’ Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) of 1974, OJJDP collaborates with professionals from diverse disciplines to improve juvenile justice policies and practices.

OJJDP, a component of the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, supports states, local communities, and tribal jurisdictions in their efforts to develop and implement effective programs for juveniles. The Office strives to strengthen the juvenile justice system's efforts to protect public safety, hold offenders accountable, and provide services that address the needs of youth and their families.

Through its components, OJJDP sponsors research, program, and training initiatives; develops priorities and goals and sets policies to guide federal juvenile justice issues; disseminates information about juvenile justice issues; and awards funds to states to support local programming.

State Government Juvenile Justice Programs and Reforms:


The JJC was established in 1995 by statute to lead the reform of the juvenile justice system in the State of New Jersey.

The JJC is the single agency of State government with centralized authority for planning, policy development and provision of services in the juvenile justice system.

Its three primary responsibilities are:

  • The care, custody, and rehabilitation of juvenile offenders committed to the agency by the courts,
  • The support of local efforts to provide services to at risk and court involved youth,
  • And the supervision of youth on juvenile parole.

The Juvenile Justice Commission provides a continuum of care for juveniles placed under its supervision including residential community homes, day programs, secure care facilities and parole services. Together with State law and judicial decisions, the specific needs and history of each juvenile determine his or her placement in this continuum.

County Government Juvenile Justice Programs and Reforms:


The Somerset County Department of Human Services oversees a number of divisions that provide services to promote the social well-being of county residents.

The divisions that directly address the needs of At Risk Youth in our community include:


    • Assesses and coordinates efforts of government and community agencies that work with at-risk delinquent youth and youth with emotional or behavioral disturbance.
    • Plans and develops programs and services to meet the needs of this diverse population.
    • Prepares needs-based plans for state and county government and distributes federal, state, and local funds for the development of programs and services to meet these needs. Also responsible for the development of sanctions and services for court-involved youth.
    • Offers 24-hour response, immediate intervention, assessment, and family counseling for youth and their families who are in crisis.  Also provides training and education to the community in the area of child abuse and missing persons.
    • Offers workshops to community professionals including schools, non-profits, and families on current topics related to youth and families.  They are offered several times during the year with nominal cost to the participants. 

    •  The Office of Juvenile Institutional Services (JIS) is responsible for ensuring fiscal and programmatic management for juvenile detention programs under contract to Somerset County.  Part of the role this office plays is to develop alternative programming to secure custody, while always keeping in mind the safety of the community.
    • JIS has actively explored the most cost-effective ways to meet the needs of at-risk youth and families. By collecting data and studying trends, JIS has been able to develop programs and initiatives that benefit the residents of Somerset County financially as well as socially, as youth are able to successfully live in the community with structure and supervision.
    • Our mission is to oversee contracting of secure care for youth while cooperatively developing, implementing and maintaining a continuum of alternatives that strikes a balance between clinical and public safety needs and is culturally competent and relevant, accessible and useful and can be consistently used to maintain youth who are currently in or at risk of going to secure care, as well as youth returning from secure care, in the least restrictive environment possible.