SPECIAL PROGRAMS AT THE ACJC

JDAI

JDAI stands for the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which funds much of the transition costs of this program, JDAI was begun two decades ago as a pilot project to reduce reliance on local confinement of court-involved youth. The JDAI change model is now operating in nearly 300 counties nationwide, dramatically reducing detention facility populations.

Detention is a crucial early phase in the juvenile court process. Placement into a locked detention center pending court significantly increases the odds that youth will be found delinquent and committed to corrections facilities and can seriously damage their prospects for future success.

Yet many detained youth pose little or no threat to public safety.

When the Foundation launched JDAI as a pilot project in the early 1990s, overreliance on detention was widespread and growing nationwide. Using a model rooted in eight core strategies, JDAI proved effective in helping participating jurisdictions safely reduce their detention populations. Based on its success, JDAI has been adopted by an ever-growing number of jurisdictions, leading to dramatic declines in detention populations.

Here is a listing of the eight core strategies of the JDAI:

  • Promoting collaboration between juvenile court officials, probation agencies, prosecutors, defense attorneys, schools, community organizations and advocates;
  • Using rigorous data collection and analysis to guide decision making;
  • 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;
  • 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;
  • Instituting case processing reforms to expedite the flow of cases through the system and reduce lengths of stay in custody;
  • 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;
  • 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;
  • Monitoring and improving conditions of confinement in detention facilities.

Check and Connect

The “Check & Connect” program was designed at the University of Minnesota to curb school truancy and lower the drop-out rate in high truancy schools. The truancy and drop-out rate in our county remains a great concern and is a chief corollary of adolescent crime rates. With great cooperation from our school districts in Allen County, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the ACJC, FWCS and EACS, to place Check and Connect mentors at 4 high schools including North Side, South Side, Wayne and New Haven. Truancy mentors were hired and trained by University of Minnesota instructors. The program completed one academic year during the 2014-2015 school year with success in lowering the number of expulsions and suspensions, lowering truancies and tardies, increasing attendance and improving grades. With additional funding (see the section below on our new Foundation created to raise additional funds for these programs) the number of mentors in our schools will grow. Because some sixty (60) percent of juvenile crime takes place during school hours, the growth and success of this program should lead our community to see fewer teenagers committing crimes (shoplifting, car theft, drug dealing, etc.) during school hours and after.

“BrightSteps” Early Childhood Development Initiative

We are greatly excited by the prospects for this program. During 2014, a collaborative of agencies and groups met at the ACJC to design a program for early childhood development in our community. Our community already has a number of programs aimed at helping families with young children. But because of budget cuts, programs aimed at the very youngest children, particularly in the infant to three-year-old range, are now extremely limited. Meanwhile, new scientific evidence out of the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University shows the brain “architectural” development that occurs with good “serve and return” interaction between parent and child. We’ve always known of the importance of such affectionate interaction, but now we can see through brain imaging the real synaptic development that takes place in various parts of the brain. Children who get good interaction with their parents, receive good affectionate bonding, are spoken to and read to often, begin school far ahead of the children who do not receive these benefits. In addition, we’ve learned that the “toxic stress” that comes from conflict-riddled homes can have long-term emotional, mental and physical health consequences far beyond early adulthood. Through the generosity of the Bethlehem Lutheran Church (located near the intersection of S. Anthony and Rudisill streets), two classrooms have been donated to the BrightSteps program there. Meanwhile, the University of St. Francis and IPFW have generously established internship programs with the BrightSteps program so that the ratio between infants, siblings and instructors is very low. Custodial parents who come to the Title IV-D court to establish paternity will be ordered to take part in this 12 session program to enhance infant and sibling development with a special mission of increasing developmental and literacy skills among our community’s very youngest children. Other “points of contact” with families of infant children will be discerned and developed over time. The program is being designed so that it can be replicated in other communities in our state and nation. A “manual” has been developed to help other communities transition into this program.

Day and Evening Reporting

Day and Evening Reporting will be an alternative to short-term detention for many young people in our community. This program is developed in cooperation with the JDAI program set forth above. Reading, language and math skills are sorely lacking among our juveniles on probation at the ACJC. It is common to review files prior to delinquency hearings and see reading and math skills at third grade levels for fifteen, sixteen and seventeen-year-olds. Meanwhile, many kids lack a vision of what they could be. Kids get into trouble at school often because the classroom is not a place in which they are equipped to learn; they are simply too far behind to catch up and participate in the learning process. The good news is that many of these children are resilient. While it would have been better to insure good brain development and learning skills at a very early stage (see our “BrightSteps” program above), the situation is not hopeless. Meanwhile, many young people need mentoring as well to alleviate the stress of poor family dynamics. With focus and determination and the help of good, thoughtful mentors, these children can be brought to success. Our hope is that the ACJC will be one location of many that can bring good mentors, tutors and therapists together with kids in need of this kind of help. In addition, presentations about careers may help change the aspirations of a number of our kids.

Expansion of Detention Learning Services

Adolescents who are detained at our ACJC receive educational services through FWCS. We also assist in preparing detained youth for the High School Equivalency (HSE) examination (previously known as the GED test). But more must be done to help catch these children up to grade equivalencies in reading, language arts and math skills so that they return to school or to the job market with better skills. Time in detention should not be wasted so long as these kids are below appropriate academic grade levels. Meanwhile, young people in secure detention present us with the challenge of assisting them with “life skills” training and assistance. This will be a focus in the coming months and years.

Preparing and launching all of these programs will take a number of years and lots of hard work. But with patience, determination, good planning and the help of good people in our community, we can make a difference.

New Foundation and Foundation Website.

A new Foundation titled “The Friends of the Allen County Juvenile Center, Inc.” has been established to, among other things, aggressively seek donations to our programs mentioned above. The new Foundation has its own website at www.FriendsofACJC.org which is now in operation.

The Foundation Board is comprised of President Daryl Yost, Secretary Jerry Noble, Treasurer Todd Hollman and members John P. Martin and Janae McCullough. You can see their respective “bios” at the website.

The mission of the foundation is as follows: “To assist in securing funding and promote volunteer engagement to support the efforts of the Allen County Juvenile Center (ACJC). By doing so, the Foundation supports the ACJC’s mission to reduce juvenile crime, and to promote the general welfare of juveniles and families in our community through education and mentoring.”

The Board will continue to meet in the coming months in an effort to create an aggressive grant/donor-seeking strategy for our programs. The ACJC and Foundation will be seeking grants from various other foundations and from state and local governments. Individual donors can help by visiting the Foundation website at www.FriendsofACJC.org where you can donate funds to a program you designate or by offering to volunteer your services.