CYC-Online 19 AUGUST 2000
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youth detention

Management issues

David Roush outlines the essentials of good management practice in this difficult field of work with difficult and troubled youth

Although detention centers are complex organizations that vary in size and structure, the elements that make for excellence in juvenile detention are universal. Certain policies and practices promote success, whether a center serves 10 or 200 clients on a given day. The same policies and practices can work in State, county, or regional systems as well as in private and public operations. Regardless of the size and structure of the facility, effective performance begins with a clear mission or purpose of detention.

A clear mission statement is the first step toward gaining a measure of control in the uncertain and changing environment of detention. Fully and clearly defined purposes become the foundation for decisions and consistent policies. A strong mission statement includes beliefs, values, and expectations about what will happen to detained juveniles between arrest and court disposition.

In 1990, the National Juvenile Detention Association (NJDA) adopted a definition [See below] that captured the essence of juvenile detention. In 1992, the National Academy of Corrections (NAG) assembled 30 juvenile detention and corrections experts to address the issues of vision and mission statements for juvenile corrections. NAC staff noted the common perspectives of the juvenile corrections practitioners, particularly the high levels of consensus about the need for intervention before youth become institutionalized. The NAC vision and mission statements read as follows:

Vision Statement
Our vision is that every child experience success in caring families and nurturing communities that cherish children and teach them to value family and community. Our vision is guided by the fact that our decisions and actions affecting children today determine the quality of our life tomorrow.

Mission Statement
The mission of the juvenile corrections and detention system is to provide leadership for change for youth, family units, and communities. It operates by creating legitimate, alternative pathways to adulthood through equal access to services that are least intrusive, culturally sensitive, and consistent with the highest professional standards.

These statements demonstrate the belief that

The external environment
Managing relationships at the boundary between detention and its environment may be the central task facing practitioners. Overcrowding, inappropriate use of detention, and lack of resources are consequences of problems within the larger environment that undermine the best designed programs. These problems can be met and overcome through a variety of management tools, including:

All of these techniques demonstrate the importance of the relationship between detention and the larger environment, including courts, probation, placement agencies, and transporting authorities.

The way to meet the challenges and overcome the problems is to build coalitions. Building coalitions means making connections with individuals, groups, organizations, and agencies that can make a difference. Sometimes coalitions are forged through formal means reports on goals, accomplishments, and shortcomings of the program; speeches and brochures that interpret the philosophy and goals of the program; tours and educational events that open the facility to the community; and advisory boards and public meetings that involve key people from outside the organization. Coalition building is also achieved informally responsiveness to inquiries from the community; sensitive handling of telephone calls and letters from parents, victims, and concerned citizens; and regular contacts with judges, legislators, and other key decision makers.

Although the examples of coalition building presented above apply to the local level, the process is just as critical on the State and national levels. Detention practitioners can build coalitions with one another; with representatives from other parts of the juvenile justice system and from different levels of government; with the research and academic communities; and with leaders of churches, businesses, corporations, and foundations. Coalitions with purpose can build support and promote positive change.

Responsibilities of detention management
Among the responsibilities of detention managers are four key tasks:

Resource management. Resource acquisition, allocation, and monitoring are critical to building a successful program. The physical plant and operating funds are the primary resources. Design and maintenance of the physical plant must acknowledge the relationship between space and the objectives of detention. In addition, funding sources and the public must be willing to pay the costs of security, safety, health, and well-being. Detention managers have the obligations to define what constitutes adequate funding and to make the case for its allocation. They also have the responsibility to manage those funds with rigorous efficiency and integrity.

Competent staff. Competent, caring staff are more important than any other element for ensuring quality and achieving the mission of detention. The most important tasks for management are selecting and training staff. The hiring process seeks to discover people with the knowledge, skills, and qualities of character needed to achieve the purposes of detention. Training develops knowledge and skills, expands understanding of the aims of the organization, and integrates staff into the process of sustaining the values and accomplishing the goals of the program.

Evaluation and planning. The management responsibilities of evaluation and planning are two sides of the same issue. Evaluation asks how well the organization is doing; planning asks what the organization can improve for the future. Both functions are based on understanding what constitutes organization performance.

Organization performance is success in the following five areas:

Definition of Juvenile Detention

There are numerous definitions of juvenile detention, but until recently, no single definition achieved priority. Without consensus on a definition, juvenile detention had become all things to all segments of the juvenile justice system (Hammergren, 1984). On October 31, 1989, following 3 years of work on the subject, the board of directors of the National Juvenile Detention Association (NJDA) unanimously adopted the following definition of juvenile detention:

Juvenile detention is the temporary and safe custody of juveniles who are accused of conduct subject to the jurisdiction of the court who require a restricted environment for their own or the community's protection while pending legal action.

Further, juvenile detention provides a wide range of helpful services that support the juvenile's physical, emotional, and social development.

Helpful services minimally include: education; visitation; communication; counseling, continuous supervision; medical and health care services; nutrition; recreation; and reading.

Juvenile detention includes or provides for a system of clinical observation and assessment that complements the helpful services and reports findings.

This definition was developed from the seven essential characteristics of juvenile detention identified by the American Correctional Association (ACA) Juvenile Detention Committee (Smith, Roush, and Kelley, 1990). These themes are defined as follows:

  • Temporary custody. Of all the methods of incarceration within the criminal justice system, only juvenile detention stresses its temporary nature. Detention should be as short as possible.

  • Safe custody. This concept implies freedom from fear and freedom from harm for both the juvenile and the community. This definitional theme refers to a safe and humane environment with programming and staffing to ensure the physical and psychological safety of detained juveniles.

  • Restricted environment. The nature or degree of restrictiveness of the environment is generally associated with the traditional classifications of maximum, medium, or minimum security or custody.

  • Community protection. In addition to the factors listed above, the court has a legitimate right to detain juveniles for the purpose of preventing further serious and/or violent delinquent behavior.

  • Pending legal action. This theme includes the time spent awaiting a hearing, disposition, a placement, or a return to a previous placement.

  • Helpful services. Programs are available to detained juveniles to help resolve a host of problems commonly facing detained juveniles. Because detention has the potential of creating a tremendously negative impact on some juveniles, it is important that programming have the depth of services required to meet the needs of a wide range of juvenile problems.

  • Clinical observation and assessment. Most juvenile codes specifically refer to this theme as a purpose for detention. The controlled environment of juvenile detention often provides the opportunity for intense observation and assessment to enhance decision making capabilities. Competent clinical services are provided by properly credentialed individuals who co-ordinate and conduct the observation and assessment process. (This service may be provided by staff or through contract.)

Roush, D. (1996) Desktop Guide to Good Juvenile Detention Practice. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

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