Getting Errant Youth Out of Detention Centers and Into Rehabilitation

From 1993 to 1996, staff at the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial (RFK) established the National Juvenile Justice Project (NJJP), a comprehensive juvenile justice reform model designed to rehabilitate, rather than simply incarcerate, young offenders through programs that deal with the possible causes of criminal behavior, including illegal drugs and alcohol, family problems, and lack of education and job opportunities.

Based in Washington, the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial works to advance the human rights movement through providing innovative support to courageous human rights defenders around the world.

Key Results

  • Through the grant, the National Juvenile Justice Project provided technical assistance for six jurisdictions: in California; Connecticut; Washington, D.C.; Maryland; Michigan; and Nebraska. Each jurisdiction made progress toward creating community-based alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent juvenile offenders substance abuse treatment and early intervention, though in different degrees. For example, the population in a District of Columbia juvenile detention center dropped from a high of 240 to 150, while the population in the Wayne County, Mich., youth detention center dropped to 160 to 200 from a high of 240.

  • The Connecticut legislature drafted a new juvenile code providing less serious offenders with community-based alternatives to incarceration.

  • The project director concluded that although community-based programs are less costly in the long run, reducing the population of a large institution does not yield enough revenue to cover start-up costs for the new alternatives. Funds to develop community-based alternatives must therefore be in place before large incarceration facilities can be closed.