The Many Ironies of Juvenile Detention

I have found over the years that many naysayers of detention alternatives for juvenile offenders are lacking in the body of research supporting alternatives to detention and are ignorant of the laws governing detention.

Some are politicians, victim advocates and even law-makers. I am more disturbed with the considerable number of prosecutors, defense attorneys and law enforcement unfamiliar with these restrictions — and they are directly involved with kids in the system.

I have been doing some work in North Carolina on detention alternatives over the past few months. I am impressed with the leadership of the secretary of the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice Linda Hayes, her Chief of Staff Robin Jenkins and Deputy Secretary Mike Rieder. They are determined to do the right thing with kids despite the shoe-string budget.

They can showcase many outstanding outcomes from using evidence-based practices. Take for instance Union County, outside of Charlotte. They pursued and got a MacArthur Foundation Action Network grant to develop strategies to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the detention of kids. They have developed many tools that have produced outstanding results.

The coordinators of the effort in Union County are Karen Tucker and Becky Smith. They shared with me that early on in their effort they learned that law enforcement knew very little about the juvenile laws around detention. This frustrated police and sometimes made the relationship between the court and police difficult.

Tucker and Smith worked with law enforcement to introduce specialized training on juvenile laws — especially detention. They found that whether law enforcement agreed philosophically or not with some of the prohibitions on detention for kids, police were less frustrated with the system knowing that the law is the law. This frustration is reduced more when the training also introduces the research in support of the legal prohibitions against detention in many circumstances.