Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative

During the 1980s the United States began to realize a dramatic pendulum swing away from individualized treatment and services for youth and toward “law and order” efforts. The perception of a growing juvenile crime epidemic in the early 1990s fueled public scrutiny of the system's ability to effectively control violent juvenile offenders. State legislatures responded to this outcry by passing laws to crack down on juvenile crime.

Contrary to predictions, violent juvenile crime arrests declined by the mid 1990s. During the same time frame, the number of incarcerated youth also dropped significantly. Mass incarceration proved not to be fiscally sustainable and innovative ideas began to flourish about how to best deal with these youth. Various organizations, like the Annie E. Casey Foundation, began to tackle juvenile justice reform efforts such as the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), an approach grounded in evidence that promises to be far more humane, cost-effective, and protective of public safety than our time-worn and counterproductive reliance on juvenile incarceration. In approximately 2003, the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department joined in this initiative which sparked both procedural and program reforms statewide and has now become ingrained in the vision and policies of the department. Many jurisdictions in New Mexico, as well as the Juvenile Justice Continuum sites, support JDAI principles and practice. JDAI is part of a different future which recognizes that mass detention/incarceration is not only fiscally unsustainable, but has a significant negative impact on delinquency cases and is associated with negative long-term life outcomes. The goal of JDAI is to provide the right service to the right juvenile at the right time, and to detain only those juveniles that must be held in locked detention to protect the community.

To demonstrate that jurisdictions can establish more effective and efficient systems to accomplish the purposes of juvenile detention.


  1. Eliminate inappropriate or unnecessary use of secure detention.
  2. Minimize failures to appear and incidence of delinquent  behavior.
  3. Redirect public finances to successful reform strategies.
  4. Improve conditions in secure detention facilities.
  5. Reduce racial and ethnic disparities.

Core Strategies

  • Collaboration
  • Use of accurate data
  • Objective admissions criteria and instruments
  • Alternative to detention
  • Case processing reforms
  • Reducing the use of secure confinement for "special" cases
  • Deliberate commitment to reducing racial disparities
  • Improving conditions of confinement