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Editorial: Alternative detention aids youths, community

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Next year promises to be a better one for Bernalillo County youths who make a misstep into the criminal justice system, as well as those who could have been their future victims.

It’s all thanks to the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative, a project of the private charitable Annie E. Casey Foundation. The JDAI channels young offenders away from traditional D-home lockups – which can be training grounds for career criminals – and into programs designed to cut recidivism and help them grow into productive members of society.

All while keeping the community safe.

So instead of a 24-7 juvie jail, youthful offenders may be placed in house arrest or reporting center systems. That allows them to spend their days participating in educational or life-skills programs, working on community projects, hearing from community partners, getting counseling, receiving treatment for substance abuse or mental health issues and even facing their victims to see the fallout from their actions.

And then go home at night, with electronic monitors if deemed necessary for safety.

In its 13 years in Bernalillo County, the program has been so successful that two juvenile housing units have been closed because there aren’t enough offenders to fill them. The Juvenile Detention Center’s annual admissions are down to 1,188 in fiscal 2012-13 compared to 4,654 in fiscal 2003 and the average daily population is down to 54 in 2012-13 from 113 in 2003.

Even more telling than fewer youths in the D-home is fewer warrants for youths, fewer youths on ankle bracelets and fewer crimes by young offenders.

District Attorney Kari Brandenburg says other states are coming to Bernalillo County to see the model in action, in part because an arrest before age 15 means a young person is six times more likely than others to be arrested again after age 21 – that is, if early intervention programs like those being applied here are not instituted.

It’s impressive that Bernalillo County has become a model for successful juvenile justice. But even more important is that these programs are locking up positive futures for once-troubled youths while keeping the community at large safe.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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