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Getting Started


Recent successful juvenile justice and juvenile detention reforms have resulted in better and more meaningful public policy on the use of custody facilities and have triggered significant reductions in juvenile detention and corrections populations. However, a secondary—and perhaps unintended—consequence has been a parallel reduction in the resources available to continue providing much needed training and technical assistance to facilities that still must confine the most troublesome youth. As history continues to show, juvenile detention and corrections remain the “forgotten” elements of the juvenile justice system. We now must add adult facilities that are responsible for the care and custody of youthful offenders to this list of isolated elements.

In addition to enlightened thinking, reforms have been motivated by the high costs and poor outcomes associated with the operations of youth facilities, especially those using an adult corrections model. Reform thinking includes policies and strategies based on improved screening instruments for purposes of diversion, community-based alternatives that emphasize the least intrusive placement of at-risk youth who require some form of limited supervision and care, and an expansion of community-based programs that meet the needs of at-risk youth. The “new normal” in juvenile justice now means that only those youth that pose the greatest threat to public safety should be in juvenile custody facilities. However, youth that remain in custody are not only the ones who present the greatest risk of violence, they are the youth with the most serious needs—those who require additional specialized resources and services. It is a constant challenge to remind this nation’s juvenile justice leaders and experts that a critical role for juvenile facilities is to address the needs of these youth. They must not be forgotten.

Although research has identified deficiencies within the juvenile confinement community, custody remains a critical and integral function of America’s juvenile justice system. Of the approximately 92,000 youth in custody on any day, 81% are held in secure facilities.[1] Further, the persistent problem of youth of color being overrepresented at every stage of the juvenile justice system has been well documented for the past two decades[2]

The public relies on the leadership and staff of more than 1,200 facilities—juvenile detention, juvenile corrections, and adult facilities that serve youth—for protection against juvenile offenders, for humane and constitutional conditions of incarceration, and for equipping youth with the skills to live peaceful and productive lives. However, despite the changes and improvements from recent reforms, the frequency and intensity of institutional failures to protect youth from harm show no signs of waning. Facilities—both state and local—continue to face potential litigation or are subject to consent decrees for such failures.

The lack of research on critical issues and effective practices, coupled with limited access to usable and effective risk-prevention programs and policies, can increase the potential of harm to youth, staff, and the public. The field has long needed a resource that systematically assesses conditions of confinement issues, outlines pathways to improving those conditions, and provides information and resources to empower juvenile justice leaders and staff.

To bridge this resource gap, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) commissioned the development of this resource to encourage the implementation and understanding of proven and promising practices, policies, and programs. The Desktop Guide to Quality Practice for Working with Youth in Confinement constitutes one of many key products and resources developed for the field by the National Partnership for Juvenile Services’ National Center for Youth in Custody. This new version is more comprehensive than the original Desktop Guide to Good Juvenile Detention Practice, which was published in 1996 and was of enormous benefit to the field.

The purpose of the Desktop Guide is to provide practitioners—line staff, supervisors, and administrators—along the various points on the youth-custody continuum with an operational resource that describes promising and effective practices that are rooted in theory and tested by research. Accordingly, the Desktop Guide will serve as a core resource for staff development and training as well as for academic course work.

The Desktop Guide is enriched by the constructive counsel of numerous practitioners and leaders within our allied professions. It is our hope that the Desktop Guide to Quality Practice for Working with Youth in Confinement will fulfill its promise—to strengthen our nation’s juvenile confinement continuum by offering a useful resource to the field and to stimulate the personal growth and professional development of the dedicated practitioners who provide services to youth.

As professionals, we must advocate for comprehensive policy that continues to reduce inappropriate placement of youth in our facilities and to improve the quality of care for those youth who do require a secure environment. We must strive to improve the conditions of confinement for youth in custody. And we must develop informed, skilled leadership and mentor the staff who work tirelessly and diligently to ensure each youth’s safety and positive development. Every bit as important is that we must not allow these youth and staff to be forgotten or ignored.

Earl L. Dunlap
Transitional Administrator
U. S. Federal Court Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division
Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center
Chicago, IL

David W. Roush, Ph.D.
Juvenile Justice Associates, LLC
Albion, MI

[1] Howard Snyder and Melissa Sickmund, Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2006 National Report, (Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2006).

[2] Alex Piquero, “Disproportionate Minority Incarceration,” The Future of Children 18, no. 2 (2008): 59–79.

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