Common Myths and Misconceptions about the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative:

Myth: JDAI is just a “jailbreak.”
Reality: JDAI is about assuring that the right kids are in detention for the right reasons. Detention should not be used by adults for low-level youth who lack adequate resources in the community. Detention should not be used to keep youth “safe.” Detention should be used for youth who are unlikely to appear if released.

Myth: Reducing the detention population will result in an increase in criminal activity by these juveniles.
Reality: The reverse is true!  Detention increases recidivism.  Entering the juvenile justice system makes kids 7 times more likely to enter the adult criminal justice system.  These results are based upon a 20-year study of 779 youth in Montreal published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.  Being sentenced to a juvenile facility made the children 37 times more likely to be arrested as adults, as compared with other similarly misbehaving kids who were either not caught or not put in to the system. i   

Myth: Alternatives to detention don’t hold youth accountable for their actions.
Reality: A goal of the juvenile justice system is to respond appropriately to adolescent delinquency in a manner which does not short-circuit future life success.  Youth need a system which is responsive to their behaviors but which does not create more problems for society to later address.  Detention, unfortunately, significantly reduces a young person’s future success.  “From the perspective of the juvenile, incarceration is associated with a 10-30 percent decrease in earnings.” ii JDAI advocates for a system which responds appropriately to adolescent activity but which keeps the young people in their family’s, homes, schools and community.

Myth: The juvenile justice system is race-blind.
Reality: While individual players might not perceive that they make decisions based upon the color of a young person’s skin, the reality is that the detention population does not mirror that racial and ethnic population in Massachusetts.  Black youth and Hispanic youth are significantly over-represented.  Based upon 2012 data, Black youth are 7 times more likely to be detained than white youth in the state and Hispanic youth are 5 times more likely to be detained than white youth.

Myth: Being detained assures that kids attend school while they are locked up, so detention must increase school success.
Reality: Being disconnected from their home school while in detention seriously disrupts a young person’s education progress.  Juvenile incarceration “reduces the probability of high school completion and increases the probability of incarceration later in life.” iii  A Department of Education study showed that 43 percent of incarcerated youth receiving remedial education services in detention did not return to school after release, and another 16 percent enrolled in school but dropped out after only five months. iv  

Myth: Children are in detention because they are charged with serious crimes.
Reality: Half of the youth in detention in Massachusetts are awaiting their trials.  The other half are in detention for having allegedly violated their probation.  Of all of the children in detention, 75% of them are held in both of these categories on low-level offenses.  

i Time magazine, Why Juvenile Detention Makes Teens Worse, 8/7/09.
ii Brian A. Jacob & Lars Lefgren, Are Idle Hands the Devil’s Workshop? Incapacitation, Concentration and Juvenile Crime, National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 9653, April 2003.
iii Anna Aizer & Joseph J. Doyle, Jr., Juvenile Incarceration, Human Capital and Future Crime: Evidence from Randomly Assigned Judges, National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 19102, June 2013.
iv  LeBlanc (1991), Unlocking Learning; Chapter 1 in Correctional Facilities, Washington, DC: US Department of Education.



The Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI) in Massachusetts works to ensure that “the right youth, is in the right place, for the right reason.”


This information is provided by the Massachusetts Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative.