Alternatives to Detention:
Less Cost and More Safety for Children, the Court, and Our Community
One of the key components of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) is the
creation of a range of community-based alternative to detention for children. Five of the
most successful alternatives are summarized below. Each program accomplishes the
same goals as secure detention – ensuring public safety and minimizing failures to appear
– while also helping to reduce unnecessary and inappropriate detention.
Detention increases recidivism, makes it more likely that a child will drop out of school,
strains a child’s parental relationships, and is unnecessarily expensive – an increasingly
significant problem in our current fiscal crisis. Because detention is costly for the court
and harmful to children, courts across the region and across the country have turned to
Evening Reporting Centers
Supervision by a Third-Party Mentoring Program
When these alternatives target the right children, they can help lower detention
populations safely and save the court much-needed funds.
Home Detention is designed for children who are moderate to high risk to re-offend. It
restricts children to their homes and relies on a system of graduated sanctions to enforce
compliance with strict requirements and supervision. Detention staff make daily face-to-
face contacts, check that the children are attending school, and enforce strict curfews.
The most successful home detention programs provide guidelines for reducing
supervision levels as children continue to comply with the program. The prospect of
reduced supervision provides children with an incentive to obey the rules of home
detention. Like all alternatives, home detention is designed for and restricted to youth
who would otherwise be securely detained. Electronic Monitoring (EM) can be used in
conjunction with home detention to provide increased levels of supervision for the
Bernalillo County’s home detention program targets children facing very serious
charges, including aggravated battery, robbery, aggravated burglary, aggravated
arson, kidnapping, and second degree murder. Even with these serious charges,
the success rate for Bernalillo’s home detention program is 94% -- i.e., of youth
on community detention, only 6% failed to appear or picked up another charge
while they were awaiting trial.
Community Supervision is designed for children who are at risk for failure to appear
(FTA) but do not pose a significant risk of re-offending. Detention staff assigned to
community supervision make telephone contact with a child at least one to two times per
week, confirming that she is staying out of trouble and reminding her of the obligation to
appear in court. To ensure the child’s presence at court, program staff are often
responsible for providing transportation to and from court dates. A community
supervision program can dramatically reduce FTAs and facilitate the efficient functioning
of the Court.
Evening Reporting Centers (ERCs) are safe, non-residential alternatives to secure
detention that offer an array of supports, services, and activities to youth during the high-
crime periods of the day. ERC programming is largely educational, focusing on building
youths’ academic and vocational abilities and preparing them for the job market.
Children in ERCs participate in exercises that help improve teamwork, communication,
and their ability to resolve conflicts peacefully and calmly. ERCs work best when they
are accessible to children and involved with the community. Children are more likely to
attend ERCs if they are local, and most ERCs provide transportation to the children they
Third Party Mentoring Programs, such as those operated by Youth Advocate
Programs, Inc. (YAP) and the Center of Juvenile and Criminal Justice, fill the role
of ERCs and other community-based alternatives to detention in many jurisdictions. Such
programs can also serve as an alternative to post-adjudication commitment. These
programs incorporate strength-based principles to working with youth and families, and
rely on many informal supports and resources community networks (e.g., parent support
groups, neighbors, YWCAs, church groups, local employers, etc) to help provide
individualized support and supervision to children. These programs have achieved
remarkable success in jurisdictions across the country.
Finally, a Reception Center would divert low-risk cases from the detention center,
saving low-risk children from the risks that come from contact with high-risk youth.
Reception Centers are places (usually resembling a doctor’s office) where police deposit
low-risk youth to wait to be released into the custody of a parent or guardian. They are
designed to easily connect children and families with the services that they need, from
drug treatment to GED classes to shelter care. As with ERCs, location is vital. Law
enforcement officers are much more likely to utilize a Reception Center if it is near the
All of these programs have the potential to keep communities safe and ensure that young
people appear at court hearings. Home detention, optimally combined with some level of
human supervision and possibly combined with EM, enables the court to adequately
supervise youth while they remain in their homes, schools, and churches. However, the
court must also exercise caution in developing alternatives and be sure to limit the use of
alternatives to those children who otherwise would have been securely detained. If
alternatives merely cast a wider net, bringing more children under the supervision of the
court, their cost-saving potential will be undermined and resources will be wasted on
unnecessary supervision for low-risk children. When properly implemented, alternatives
to detention allow children to remain connected to positive influences in the community
and decrease their likelihood to reoffend.