New Jersey has become a national model in how it treats its juvenile offenders, with 16 counties now participating in the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, which is sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Advocates for Children of New Jersey.
Representatives of Washington state recently visited New Jersey to look at the program, which aims to keep juveniles with lesser offenses out of detention through counseling, in-home detention, and community service. The program, known as JDAI, has resulted in an average 60 percent reduction in detention admissions between 2004, when the program started, and 2011.
The counties involved in the program include Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cumberland, Essex, Hudson, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, Passaic, Somerset, Union, and Warren.
The goal is to have only the juveniles accused of the most serious offenses detained in state facilities. Not only does the program prevent juveniles accused or convicted of drug and other lesser offenses from sharing detention with more hardened criminals, it also saves the state money. The state says it costs $136,000 per year to house a juvenile. It is estimated that New Jersey saves at least $16 million a year through the program. The ACNJ report on the program says that only 3 percent of youth re-offended while in a detention alternative and juvenile crime has dropped 33 percent.