Community-Based Alternatives

The United States confines a much higher proportion of its youth than other developed nations. Out of every 100,000 American youth, 336 are confined —currently, about 70,000 youth are locked up in facilities across the country[1]. South Africa comes in a distant second, as it confines only 69 out of every 100,000 youth[2].

In recent years, state and local policymakers have begun to raise questions about the high cost of confining so many youth, particularly when many of them are housed in dangerous conditions and often have high rates of recidivism[3].

As it happens, cost-effective program options, known as “community-based alternatives,” have already been developed and tested that serve youth safely in the community instead of incarcerating them in jail-like facilities. Many practitioners also see diversion as part of the community-based alternatives continuum. This includes alternatives that have been developed to divert youth at almost any point in the juvenile justice system. Approaches range from early intervention to keep youth from the front door of the justice system, to diversion from the system itself or from incarceration in a secure facility prior to trial.

Below, you’ll find an overview of salient issues and links to information on each approach, as well as the most recent research, cutting edge reforms, model policies, best practices, links to experts, and toolkits to take action.

Community-Based Alternatives Topics



[1] Melissa Sickmund, Anthony (TJ) Sladky, Wei Kang, and Charles (Chaz) Puzzanchera, “Easy Access to the Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement,” (2011). Online database, available:

[2] The Annie E. Casey Foundation. No Place for Kids: The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration. Baltimore: The Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2011, Available at:; citing Neal Hazel, “Cross-National Comparison of Youth Justice,” (London: Youth Justice Board, 2008).

[3] The Annie E. Casey Foundation, No Place for Kids, 2-3.