Nearly ten years ago the National Juvenile Detention Association in the USA unanimously adopted the following four-point 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 counselling; 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, 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 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 behaviour.
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 programmes 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 am provided by properly credentialed individuals who coordinate and conduct the observation and assessment process.
Confusion of function
Juvenile detention is a paradox that is difficult to define. The confusion of function ranks even above the perennial problems of crowding, the lack of funding, and the lack of personnel. The National Conference (1947) recommended the following distinct solutions to the confusion of function:
Detention must have a clear definition.
There should be controls or intake in the form of guidelines or criteria.
There should be co-operation between children's agencies to divert youth who do not require secure detention into alternative programmes.
There should be a well-organized network for transferring youth to the appropriate placement.
The intent of these solutions is to open detention to those youth who truly need secure, temporary custody. Viewed as important for the future of detention over four decades ago, these solutions are equally relevant today.
What are the functions of detention?
Two functions (goals) make up the conflicting parts of the juvenile detention paradox.
First, detention restrains and inhibits a youth’s freedom or liberty through placement in a locked institution, in a physically restricting environment or in some other level of custody with supervision. This function is called preventive detention.
Second, detention is also one of the services associated with the juvenile court. When detention services include helpful programs for the diagnosis, remediation, or restoration of the juvenile offender. This function is called therapeutic detention.
The earliest studies of juvenile detention identified security and a physically restricting environment as universal characteristics of juvenile detention. These characteristics are essential to preventive detention. The preventive function is easier to understand because it is consistent with the meaning of the word “detention.” According to the dictionary, detention means “a keeping in custody or confinement.” Custody means “a guarding or keeping safe; care; and protection.” The implication of preventive detention is that detention is a form of custody that prevents certain things from happening to ensure protection or safekeeping. What are the goals of preventive detention? There are different opinions regarding how many goals are included in the preventive detention function. However three general goals emerge:
Detention provides the juvenile court with a reasonable assurance that the youth will be available and present for court hearings and other legal matters. (Detention prevents absconding, running away or failing to appear before the court.)
Detention is used to prevent harm from happening to the juvenile offender, the family and the community.
Detention is used to prevent the juvenile from committing further offences during the legal process (Pappenfort and Young 1980).
There is little doubt that protection of the child and protection of the community (public safety) are universal goals expressed m the detention literature. However is preventive detention the exclusive function of juvenile detention?
The word “therapeutic” is sometimes misleading. Although preventive detention stops certain behaviours or actions, the nature of therapeutic detention is to initiate certain events. Therefore, therapeutic detention could also be called “educative detention,” “helpful detention,” or “proactive detention.” This function examines what detention can do to help the juvenile, achieving the preventive goals of protecting the offender, family and community and preventing the occurrence of further offences.
Although the ultimate goal of therapeutic detention is not the complete rehabilitation of the juvenile offender, detention should be seen as the place where the process begins. The term “therapeutic” is associated with the program and services provided by the juvenile court. Ideally juvenile detention is only one component of the range of services available to the juvenile court.
The basis for the therapeutic detention rationale is diagnosis and observation. For the court to make an informed decision regarding the future of the juvenile, information is needed regarding the juvenile, the home environment and peers. Short-term detention has been used as an opportunity to accomplish this task. The diagnostic and observation themes are so common that many juvenile codes include these concepts as a rationale for detention, and they have created conflict in the definition of detention goals.
The goals of preventive detention and therapeutic detention are not mutually exclusive. However the lack of consensus about juvenile justice philosophy increases the tension between these two functions. Until NJDA established a national definition of detention the confusion of function was a major obstacle to the definition of detention. The problem was the inability of practitioners to integrate these two detention goals and balance them in daily practice. Now would also be a good time to return to the NJDA definition at the beginning of this article to see how it combines the preventive and therapeutic themes.
This feature: Roush, D.W. (1996). Desktop guide to good juvenile detention practice. National Juvenile Detention Association and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.