Five States Dramatically Reduce the Number of Youth in Juvenile Detention Centers
Two new reports look at how AZ, CT, LA, MN, and TN slashed the number of young people in confinement by half, while preserving public safety and improving youth outcomes.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Removing young people who engage in delinquent behavior from their homes and communities and incarcerating them in locked facilities is no longer the status quo in five states, according to two new reports released today by the Justice Policy Institute.

Juvenile Justice Reform in Connecticut: How Collaboration and Commitment Have Improved Public Safety and Outcomes for Youth and Common Ground: Lessons Learned from Five States that Reduced Juvenile Confinement by More than Half, shed light on the pronounced trend toward reduced confinement of youth nationwide. Through a variety of methods, the reports find, Connecticut, Arizona, Minnesota, Louisiana, and Tennessee all reduced youth confinement by more than 50 percent between 2001 and 2010, with no resulting uptick in juvenile crime. 

A deeper look at Connecticut’s juvenile justice system reforms shows that, through a system-wide culture change and major investments in evidence-based services, a previously wasteful, punitive, ineffective, and often abusive juvenile justice system was transformed into a national model, at no additional cost to taxpayers (after adjusting for inflation).

Combined with a data snapshot showing state-by-state youth incarceration rates that is also being released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the twoJPI reports put the trend toward reduced confinement of youth in context and offer lessons that reformers in other jurisdictions can adapt and use in their own communities.

“The success across these diverse states in reducing the number of youth in confinement shows that there is no reason other states can’t halve their populations as well,” said Peter Leone, PhD., acting executive director of the Justice Policy Institute. “And the fact that some ofthe highlighted states made progress without a major realignment in funding means that economic factors should not be an excuse to avoid reform efforts.”

Juvenile Justice Reform in Connecticut highlights the past two decades of Connecticut’s successful efforts to improve responses to youth who engage in delinquent behavior and to reduce the number of youth placed into detention centers, correctional training schools, and/or other residential facilities.Specifically, the state reduced residential commitments from 680 in 2000 to 216 in 2011 (nearly 70 percent), even though most 16 year-olds, who were previously treated as adults, are now handled in the juvenile system. The state has also closed one of its three state-operated detention centers, and reduced the under 18 population in Connecticut’s adult prisons from 403 in January 2007 to 151 in July 2012. Meanwhile, Connecticut expanded its investment in evidence-based, family-focused adolescent treatment programs from $300,000 in 2000 to $39 million in 2009.

For decades, Connecticut was one of only three states that prosecuted and punished all 16 and 17 year-olds as adults. In 2007, the state enacted historic legislation to ‘raise the age’ of juvenile jurisdiction from 16 to 18, effective January 1, 2010 for 16 year olds and July 1, 2012 for 17 year olds. Even before 17 yearolds became eligible for juvenile court on July 1, 2012, the new law had enabled 8,325 16 year olds to avoid prosecution and punishment in the adult criminal justice system.  In addition, Connecticut has outlawed detention for youth accused of status offenses (like truancy and running away from home) that would not be illegal if committed by adults, and created a new treatment system to keep nearly all status offenders out of the court system entirely.

“I’ve always believed that while standing up for kids in the juvenile justice system isn’t always politically popular, it’s incredibly important. Connecticut should be proud of its unyielding commitment to improving the system to keep our most vulnerable youth safe and give them a second chance,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), a champion of juvenile justice reform. “By taking bold steps that put kids and evidenced-based policies first, Connecticut has become a nationwide model for reform.”

The second report, Common Ground: Lessons Learned from Five States that Reduced Juvenile Confinement by More than Half, explores the drivers of youth prison population reductions in Connecticut, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arizona and Minnesota- and provides insights for other states inspired to improve their juvenile justice systems.

“These states have taken advantage of circumstances, both good and bad, to reshape their juvenile systems away from the over-use of confinement and towards recognition that young people are different from adults; the reasons that put them in contact with the justice system are different and the way we respond to their behavior should be different,” said Spike Bradford, JPI senior research associate and author of Common Ground.

Common Ground makes the following recommendations to policymakers and service providers in other states looking to reform their juvenile justice systems:

  • Recognize opportunities to push change. The top performing states capitalized on falling arrest rates, budget shortfalls and litigation-driven reforms to shift their systems from confinement.
  • Consider the legal route. Many of the most effective reform movements have begun through the process of settling litigation. If conditions are poor and a case can be made, advocacy organizations have it in their power to kick-start reform by bringing a suit against the state.
  • Create/re-energize existing juvenile justice commissions/task forces to promote collaboration among stakeholders. These cross-system groups can ensure that litigation is truly a “call to action” and that there is buy-in from those decision makers who could push forward reforms.
  • Collect useful and reliable data and make it accessible. Progress can only be confirmed through measurement, so states should ensure that all agencies keep relevant data that enable them to track changes and make adjustments accordingly.
  • Utilize experts for technical assistance. Initiatives such as the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change project and the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI) are designed to help states coordinate reform and tailor it to their unique situation.
  • Promote a return to the American juvenile justice ideal of treating young people in trouble differently than adults and with therapeutic interventions rather than harsh punishment.

To read Common Ground or Juvenile Justice Reform in Connecticut CLICK HERE. For more information, contact Zerline Hughes at (202) 558-7974 x308 or [email protected]. For more on JPI’s research, please visit our website at

The Justice Policy Institute, based in Washington, DC, is working to reduce the use of incarceration and the justice system and promoting policies that improve the well-being of all people and communities. For more information, please visit