GJPP
Desktop Guide to
Good Juvenile Probation Practice
Teens walking along railroad tracks in the woods

Role of detention

Pillars of transformation

Detention should only be used if absolutely necessary and it must be a thoughtful process that is imposed with the purpose of protecting the community as a part of a continuum of care for youth introduced to the juvenile justice system. Detention is not an appropriate response to technical violations.

JPOs and detention staff need to collaborate to create a plan focusing on the youth’s adolescent development, the youth’s strengths, and trauma that could be caused or worsened by detention in order to foster positive youth development. It is important to remember that many behaviors that lead youth to probation are part of normal development, which means that these youth are not abnormal and that it’s likely they will age-out of the behavior. Therefore; unless the behavior is dangerous to the community, youth should not be exposed to the trauma of being taken away from their families and their normal routines.

More about the pillars and guiding values »

Current use of detention

The use of detention has been declining since the late 1990s.

Despite the decline, there is still much work to be done. Youth are still being placed in detention facilities for status offenses and technical violations.  Youth of color make up the largest proportion of committed and detained youth. And often times, placement stays are not short lived even for youth whose offenses were not violent.

On a given day in 2017, 43,580 youth were being held in a facility and 3,600 youth were held in adult jails.[1]

  • 15,660 youth were detained. 2,947 of these were detained[2] as a result of a technical violations such as failure to participate in a specific program, failure to appear for drug tests or meetings, and failure to pay restitution being their most serious offense.[3]
  • 26,972 youth were committed. 3,473 of these were committed as a result of a technical violations. Also, 57% of youth committed[4] to placement for a technical violation, were still in placement after 60 days. The length of stay for youth detained for technical violations follows similar trends to youth detained for drug offenses and status offenses.[5]
  • 455 youth were in a facility as a part of a diversion agreement. 73 of these were in a facility as a part of a diversion agreement due to a technical violations
  • 493 youth were in a facility for another or unknown reason. 158 of these were in a facility for another reason due to a technical violation.

Youth of color make up the largest proportions of youth in placement.

57% of youth committed to placement for a technical violation, were still in placement after 60 days.

The length of stay for youth detained for technical violations follows similar trends to youth detained for drug offenses and status offenses.

Placement in a facility for technical violations is similar to that of placement for public order offenses.

The use of detention has been declining since 2000, but there is still much need for improvement.

We advocate for using detention in only in the most extreme of cases as this intervention causes a hardship for the detained/committed youth and for the juvenile justice system. Not only is detention traumatic and disruptive, incarceration as a youth can lead to life-long consequences, such as worse health and social capabilities across the rest of their lives.[6] We cannot deny that detention is sometimes necessary for the youth who pose the highest risk to community safety, but for most youth secure detention is not necessary.

For information on appropriate use of secure detention, please visit the AECF’s Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiatives (JDAI) website. They have been working on improving practice for over two decades.

Defining detention and its role

Because juvenile probation officers may “carry the keys” to secure detention facilities in their jurisdictions, it is important that they recognize the value and purposes of detention and understand how detention practices should be related to larger juvenile justice goals.

Detention is:

  • A process (not a place)[7] designed to provide safe, temporary care for youth who pose a threat to the community or themselves. Placement in a detention facility can occur prior to disposition (detainment) while waiting for court decisions or as the result of a disposition decision (commitment).
  • Part of a continuum of care for justice system involved youth who pose the highest risk to community safety. Alternatives to detention are preferred for any youth who can be safely placed in their home or community.

Detention is not:

  • Arrested care
  • An acceptable response for status offenses
  • A disposition option for technical violations of probation. Any and all technical violations should be handled using graduated responses.
  • An automatic response to new offenses from youth on probation-- New offenses should be referred to the court to ensure due process

Placement in a facility for technical violations is similar to that of placement for public order offenses

Appropriate use of detention facilities as an intervention

When youth whose behavior can be addressed through services, and supports in the community is placed in a detention facility, it causes undue stress to them and their family, introduces them to youth who can negatively influence them, and limits the system's capacity to effectively treat youth who do benefit from more structured care provided in a facility.

A stay in detention disrupts a youth’s schooling, family life, and connection to their community.  Further, it consumes precious resources of the juvenile justice system to ensure that the youth’s educational, mental health, and other needs are properly met.[8] As a probation officer, your role is to make sure integration back into the community is seamless. This requires communication and coordination with the family, schools, and other community resources to ensure everything is prepared for the youth’s return.

Acceptable reason for detainment[10]

Although standards may vary somewhat from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, detention should only be used to prevent the youth from inflicting serious bodily harm or committing serious property damage while awaiting adjudication.

Some state statutes identify other reasons such as 1) to ensure the youth’s subsequent appearance in court and 2) to protect the youth (at the youth’s request) from imminent bodily harm. Alternatives to detention should be used when a youth is not a threat to the community.

Unacceptable reasons for pre-hearing detainment

  • to punish, treat, rehabilitate, or teach the youth a lesson;
  • to allow parents to avoid their legal responsibilities (e.g. not wanting the youth in their home);
  • to satisfy victim, police, or community demands;
  • to permit more convenient administrative access to the youth;
  • to facilitate further interrogation or investigation;
  • or because more appropriate facilities or services are unavailable.

Decision making

A detention screening tool and assessment should be administered to each youth.

Following detention assessment, the decision-maker should be able to choose from a range of detention options. In keeping with the view that detention is not a building but a process, detention decision-making should promote safety and continued improvement through services based on level of risk. The decision-maker should choose the least restrictive alternative available to accomplish the system’s goals.[11]

Although detention alternative programs vary considerably in their design and implementation from place to place, most fall into one of three broad categories:

  • Home detention/supervision programs. This set of alternative programs allows youth to live at home and work or attend school while awaiting hearings, but they are subject to face-to-face supervision, curfews and other restrictions, such as electronic monitoring.  Unannounced visits and random telephone calls may be used to check compliance with the program.  The intensity of supervision and levels of restriction can be adjusted in response to the youth’s record of compliance.  Supervision is generally performed by probation officers, but some programs employ “community supervisors” or “advocates” who handle client contact.  In either case, low staff-to-client ratios are essential.[12]
  • Day/evening reporting centers. For youth who need more oversight than a home detention program provides or who have already had difficulty with in home detention, reporting centers can provide safe, structured, staff-supervised activities on a daily basis—typically during after-school and evening hours. Although this sort of program typically costs more to operate than in home detention, a bonus is that it is capable of providing services (tutoring, counseling, vocational training, etc.) to youth that need them.
  • Residential programs. Sometimes known as “shelters,” staff-secure residential facilities provide 24-hour supervision—and often structured activity and services, as in a reporting center—in a setting that is less secure than that of a secure detention center.

Alternatives to secure detention that use strength based, research informed, collaborative approaches can effectively achieve the goals secure detention would at a tiny fraction of its cost. Probation departments developing alternatives to detention should be wary of “widening the net” of detention.  The idea is to reduce reliance on secure detention, not simply sweep up additional youth—who would otherwise have been released pending hearings—into detention alternatives.

For more information on alternatives to secure detention, visit the AECF’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives webpage.

References

  1. OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book. Online. Released on June 24, 2019.
  2. Includes youth held prior to adjudication while awaiting an adjudication hearing in juvenile court, as well as youth held after adjudication while awaiting disposition or after adjudication while awaiting placement elsewhere. Also includes youth awaiting transfer to adult criminal court, or awaiting a hearing or trial in adult criminal court.
  3. Sickmund, M., Sladky, T.J., Kang, W., & Puzzanchera, C. (2019). Easy Access to the Census of youth in Residential Placement.
  4. Includes youth in placement in the facility as part of a court-ordered disposition. Committed youth may have been adjudicated and disposed in juvenile court or convicted and sentenced in criminal court.
  5. OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book. Online. Released on June 24, 2019.
  6. Barnert, E.S., Perry, R., & Morris, R.E. (2016). Juvenile incarceration and health. Academic Pediatrics, 16(2), 99–109.
  7. Dunlap, E., and Roush, D. (Spring 1995). Juvenile Detention as Process and Place. Juvenile and Family Court Journal, 46. Reno, NV: National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.
  8. OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book. Online. Released on June 24, 2019.
  9. Smith, J., Roush, D., and Kelley, R.  (1990). Public Correctional Policy on Juvenile Services: Juvenile Detention (Committee Report). Laurel, MD: American Correctional Association, Juvenile Detention Committee.
  10. FLA. STAT. Ch. 39.043(1) (1991), cited in Orlando, F. (1999). Controlling the Front Gates: Effective Admissions Policies and Practices. Baltimore, MD: Annie E. Casey Foundation.
  11. DeMuro, P.  (1999). Consider the Alternatives: Planning and Implementing Detention Alternatives.  Baltimore, MD: Annie E. Casey Foundation.
  12. DeMuro, P.  (1999). Consider the Alternatives: Planning and Implementing Detention Alternatives.  Baltimore, MD: Annie E. Casey Foundation.