ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Bernalillo County has seen an across-the-board decrease in juvenile offenses over the last decade, both misdemeanors and felonies, and the county’s juvenile justice system has become a model that other states are now trying to emulate.
In a combination news conference and briefing for juvenile justice employees, 2nd Judicial District Attorney Kari Brandenburg said Thursday the “unprecedented” and continuous improvement is a result of the county’s early-on adoption of the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative, a project of the private charitable Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The JDAI outlines programs and policies that help youth in the juvenile justice system develop into healthy and productive people to increase their chance for success, reduce their likelihood of incarceration and minimize the risk they pose to their communities.
Alternatives to detention include the Community Custody Program, the Youth Reporting Center and the Girls Reporting Center. Kids go home at night but spend days in the Juvenile Justice Center participating in educational or life skills programs. Community partners may come in to talk to the kids, or the kids may go out with the partners to work on projects in the community. In some cases, juveniles may have to wear GPS monitors because keeping the community safe remains a primary objective, Brandenburg said.
Kids and families may also be directed into substance abuse and truancy intervention programs, mental health programs, mentorship programs and individual or family counseling.
Another prong of the JDAI strategy is to seek “restorative justice,” Brandenburg said. This involves “the offender being held accountable.” By bringing the offender and victim together so they can understand one another, “you get closer to making the victim whole and getting the offender to appreciate the repercussions of his or her behavior and criminal acts,” she said.
The age of a juvenile’s first arrest is a strong predictor of continuing criminal behavior. Those arrested before age 15 were six times more likely than others to be arrested again after age 21 if early intervention programs are not instituted.
As a result of implementing the JDAI strategies, Brandenburg said, representatives from juvenile justice systems in other states have come to look at the Bernalillo County model and get ideas. The program here has been so successful that:
- The Juvenile Detention Center’s average daily population has dropped from 113 in 2003 to 54 in fiscal year 2012-13; and its annual admission dropped from 4,654 in 2003 to 1,188 in 2012-13.
- Since 2004, felonies dropped by 11.8 percent; misdemeanors by 30.4 percent; and the number of petitions filed with the court by 28 percent.
- From 2006 though 2010, the number of youth placed in the Community Custody Program decreased 30 percent and the number of juvenile bench warrants by 48 percent.
- From 1999 through 2012, the number of juvenile probation referrals fell 47 percent, from 10,346 to 5,439.
- Since 2,000, two juvenile housing units have been closed due to fewer youths in detention. The money and staff used for the housing units has been reallocated to alternative detention programs.