Jones: Juvenile justice next challenge

Published 2:23 am Saturday, November 14, 2015

On the heels of new data showing a reduction in the number of youth incarcerated in Alabama, Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, and a team of Alabama representatives joined other states in Austin, Texas, this week to address the next big challenge they all share: reducing the likelihood youth will be rearrested and end up in the adult criminal justice system.


Alabama’s juvenile incarceration rate has decreased by 59.8 percent from 1997-2013, according to new numbers from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). Despite the reduction, there’s been less progress ensuring youth released from facilities or under community supervision succeed by staying crime free, achieving academically and getting jobs. At “Improving Outcomes for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System: A 50-State Forum,” a two-day event, states were given the opportunity to collaborate, learn from each others’ experiences and understand the latest research from national experts.

“The national research shows that the No. 1 determinate of recidivism in juveniles is being held in an institution,” Jones said. “This is not data that is hit and miss. Everywhere it was studied – from Miami to rural Texas – they got the same results.”

Basically, he said, data shows that isolation of juveniles is more effective. Mental health and drug addiction are clearly contributing factors, he said.

Earlier this year, Jones, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, was a key author of Alabama’s prison reform initiative.

The Texas forum, organized by the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, was made possible through funding by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the OJJDP. Participants were asked to use checklists provided by the CSG Justice Center to assess whether current policies and practices are in line with the latest research.

Jones said Alabama is ahead of the curve.

“We updated our juvenile law in 2008,” he said. “We went from an average of 1,000 juveniles incarcerated to having about 400 annually. That was considered high.”

A number of states are only now taking the steps Alabama took in ’08, he said.

The sponsoring organizations are making competitive grant money available for state initiatives, and he is hopeful Alabama will compete for one of the grants, he said.

“This forum was a perfect complement to follow the prison reform legislation recently passed,” Jones said. “We are hoping to find a solution to prevent juveniles from continuing a path that ultimately leads to prison or death.”

Other Alabamians participating were Steven Lafreniere, Director of Department of Youth Services; Judge Patty Demos, District Judge from Madison County; and Rich Hobson, director of the Administrative Office of Courts.