Juveniles in Detention and the Conditions of Confinement

The Research Division administers several projects that examine the number and characteristics of juveniles in residential facilities and prison and the conditions of that confinement, such as the programs and services available for rehabilitation. Several of these projects are already under way; others are in development. Projects focusing on these areas include the following:

  • Assessment of Space Needs in Juvenile Detention and Corrections. In FY 1998, Congress directed OJJDP to report on the capacity of the Nation's juvenile detention and corrections systems and to indicate the systems' ability to deal with projected populations of juveniles in the future. In its Report to Congress, OJJDP noted the lack of data for such projections and the lack of adequate projection methods.7 To rectify this deficiency, the Research Division is funding the development of sophisticated methods of planning for future populations, including consensus committee planning and sophisticated statistical modeling. Various State efforts to plan for present and future needs are being examined, including administrative judgments and single population change models. Based on this information, the Research Division will inform other States and localities on ways that space needs assessments can be improved.

  • Detailed Analysis of Conditions of Confinement. This study examined key issues in understanding conditions and correctional practices in secure juvenile facilities, including correctional educational practices, an update on overcrowding, and differences in perception of the conditions by staff and youth.

  • Performance-Based Standards for Juvenile Detention and Corrections (Demonstration Project and Evaluation). The Research Division established working groups to identify basic standards for juvenile detention and correction facilities in six areas: safety, order, security, physical and mental health, justice, and programming (including education and treatment services). The project also developed outcome, expected practice, and process methods of measuring whether facilities are meeting standards. More than 30 selected sites agreed to participate in this important demonstration effort. The evaluation is examining the impact of performance-based standards on specific facilities.

  • Race, Overconfinement, and Crowding in Juvenile Corrections Facilities. This project has brought together the body of research from across the Nation on State juvenile justice processing and minority overrepresentation in secure confinement. In the past, individual researchers and State organizations held these data, but this project is (1) identifying common variables across States and (2) conducting secondary data analysis and comparison to get a wider view of these issues. The project is considering questions such as: When in their juvenile court careers do delinquent youth receive their first secure confinement disposition? Does the type of disposition for an offense affect the probability of a subsequent offense? Do the factors affecting population flow into juvenile institutions vary by race and other personal, social, and legal characteristics?

  • Enhancing Personnel Training and Understanding of Minority Overrepresentation in the Juvenile Justice System. This project is designed to enhance the training of inservice professionals -- in particular those who work in community-based programs and with juveniles -- and will investigate factors contributing to minority overrepresentation in the juvenile justice system. It is essential that program managers and professionals recognize the importance of keeping up with demographic trends and adapt programs so that they are responsive to the needs of the community. For example, it is estimated that the Hispanic juvenile population in Texas will increase dramatically during the next decade. Juvenile justice agencies, courts, and youth-serving programs need to be alerted to this trend and respond accordingly. This project will result in development of a master's degree program in Forensic Psychology at Prairie View University, Prairie View, TX, and a manual for use in managing community-based programs.

  • Cost-Benefit Analysis of Juvenile Justice Programs (University of Texas at Dallas, TX). In FY 1998, OJJDP awarded a grant to the University of Texas at Dallas to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of juvenile probation, detention, and corrections programs. This project is providing an indepth study of the costs associated with each disposition and the expected benefits. By putting costs and benefits into monetary terms, policymakers can more easily discern which disposition provides the greatest benefit for the lowest cost and for whom. However, this particular type of analysis is subject to differing values placed on distinct intangible outcomes. As in the Assessment of Space Needs project described above, the use of cost-benefit analysis makes explicit the assumptions of policymakers so that a more reasoned policy can be implemented.

7Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, in press, An Assessment of Space Needs in Juvenile Detention and Corrections Facilities, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

OJJDP Research: Making a Difference for Juveniles August 1999