After over a decade of close monitoring of the detention of juveniles under the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, Alaska has still not achieved substantial compliance with the provisions of the federal legislation, thus reducing its access to federal formula grant funds in the juvenile justice area. Since the state monitoring plan was accepted by the federal government and put in place in 1989, the state has made significant progress in reducing violations of the system of safeguards surrounding the detention of juveniles, but it continues to report a higher number of violations than is permitted under the act. In reality the number of actual violations is probably not as high as the number being reported. The problems with compliance are now essentially tied to the difficulties in obtaining data from rural communities: when communities do not submit data on the actual detention of juveniles, the monitoring program requires that a formula of projections of violations be invoked. This is probably resulting in more being reported to the federal government than are actually occurring. Since in recent years, federal funding for some juvenile justice programs has become more tightly tied to compliance with the provisions of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, this over-reporting is especially problematic.
The Justice Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage has administered the monitoring program for the Alaska Division of Family and Youth Services since 1989. The following article discusses the nature of the federal act and the Alaska monitoring program, and it provides an overview of the data accumulated over the last decade along with an analysis of problems involved in responding to the federal regulations.
The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act requires states to closely monitor the physical presence of juvenile offenders in the correctional system. Failure to meet the requirements reduces the eligibility of individual states for federal funds. The legislation restricts how, when and under what circumstances juveniles may be incarcerated. The act mandates several standards regarding the detention of juveniles. First, status offenders (those charged with an offense which would not be a crime if committed by an adult) cannot be held in any type of secure confinement, although a 24-hour grace period is permitted. (This is termed deinstitutionalization.) The jail removal provisions require that those juveniles accused of or adjudicated on criminal offenses also not be placed in detention in adult facilities – again with a grace period, this time of six hours. A further provision mandates that all juveniles, regardless of their offender status, who are detained in a facility which also holds adults must be separated from the adults by sight and sound. The legislation requires each state to submit a workable plan for monitoring progress toward compliance with these provisions. In 1989 the Justice Center was asked by the State of Alaska Division of Family and Youth Services to create this plan for Alaska.
Complying with the federal act has been challenging. In the lower 48 states it is not unusual for staff from the monitoring agency to drive from facility to facility to verify records and inspect facilities. The lack of roads and the vast area to be covered in Alaska preclude this approach. Most monitoring visits are made by small plane.
Another challenge has been the diversity of jails and lock-ups throughout the state. Agencies such as the Alaska State Troopers, municipal police departments and Village Public Safety Officers or Village Police Officers run different types of holding facilities under differing authorities. Each of these authorities, as well as the Alaska Department of Corrections and the Alaska Court System, needs to be contacted and its cooperation gained to insure accurate monitoring of juvenile intake events.
The types of facilities monitored are juvenile detention facilities, contract jail facilities, state correctional centers, court holding facilities, village lock-ups and any other type of facility in which juveniles in state or municipal custody can be securely detained. Under the plan, an elaborate system was set up which entailed gathering information on which areas in the state had facilities that should be monitored, annually producing a list of those facilities (monitoring universe), dividing those facilities into manageable groups for visits and contacting each facility for copies of its records. The plan divided the universe into three groups, and required the annual collection of the required information from each facility within the group and site visits on a three-year cycle. Except for a change in 1994 from monitoring on a calendar year basis to monitoring on a state fiscal year basis, and a revision in 1995 in the way statistical weighting is done for non-reporting sites, the plan has remained essentially the same since its adoption.
Each year, with the cooperation of the agencies involved, every facility on the universe list is asked to submit information (such as booking logs) on all persons detained during the monitoring year. The information requested includes name (or initials), date of birth, sex and race, charge (or other reason for detention), date and time in and date and time out. Even though the object of this study is the extent to which juveniles are detained within Alaska, information on all persons securely detained is necessary to determine if sight and sound separation of juveniles has been maintained. In addition, one group of facilities is visited each year on a rotating basis to verify accuracy of records and to determine whether each facility has the capability to provide sight-and-sound separation of juveniles.
As stated earlier, the state is required to be in substantial—not full—compliance with the act in order to continue receiving federal formula grant funds. (Substantial compliance is determined by a statistical formula.) Unfortunately, Alaska is not as yet in substantial compliance. The reasons behind the lack of compliance are many, ranging from the remoteness of the holding facility, to adverse weather conditions, to a lack of knowledge of the requirements of the act among members of law enforcement and the court, to the lack of reporting by the various holding facilities.
Table 1 illustrates this point. The number of sites reporting information has ranged from fifty to seventy-eight percent. Due in part to this lack of reporting, the number of violations has fluctuated from year to year, although in general it has declined greatly from the initial three-year period.
In 1995 the Alaska Department of Corrections discontinued holding juveniles who have not been waived to adult status in their facilities. This has helped decrease the number of violations occurring every year. However, state-contracted adult jails and locally-run village lock-ups still show substantial jail removal violations. Table 2 illustrates the number of jail removal violations for three selected years of study.
The tables underscore the most pressing problem facing Alaska in its quest to comply with the requirements of the act. The one issue that causes the state the most violations is the lack of reporting by facilities on the universe list. The universe is divided into three distinct regions, with each facility in that group required to submit booking data on all detainees for the monitored fiscal year. When a facility within a group does not send in the information, the plan requires projecting a number of violations for that facility. Hence, if each reporting facility within a group shows two violations, it is projected that the non-reporting site probably also has two violations. This is reflected in the final tally. The unfortunate aspect of projecting violations is that the state may actually be claiming more violations than were actually committed, but until full reporting from all facilities is achieved, projecting violations upon non-reporting sites is the only way to estimate the extent to which the state is in compliance with the act.
Why don't sites report? One reason is that in some rural villages in Alaska officers have not attended any type of law enforcement training course and therefore have not been taught the requirements of the act or the importance of keeping records of all persons detained in their facility.
Another problem is the high turnover among law enforcement personnel. Tribal and village police officers often do not stay long in their positions, and Village Public Safety Officers also change positions or leave the program quite frequently, thereby creating a situation where replacements need to be trained in the requirements of the act.
There are additional complications to achieving compliance with the act. Most of the 152 sites currently on the universe list are located in remote areas of Alaska. The very remoteness of these sites not only presents logistical problems for researchers verifying information, but is also problematic for those responsible for complying with the mandates of the act. For example, a juvenile arrested at 4:00 PM on a criminal charge on Saint Paul Island is taken to the local police department holding facility because Saint Paul has no juvenile detention center. In fact, the nearest juvenile detention center is 150 miles across the Bering Sea in Bethel. The next plane may not leave Saint Paul until10:00 AM the following morning. Since a juvenile arrested on a criminal charge can only be held (sight-and-sound separated) in the jail for up to six hours before going to court and an additional six hours after going to court, what can the police chief do to avoid violating the JJDP Act? In such a case, a violation is probably inevitable. Unless the chief or other authority can find a non-secure temporary placement for the juvenile until the plane leaves, the juvenile will remain in the holding facility well beyond the time allowed.
Another problem is adverse weather conditions. There have been instances where a juvenile has been forced to stay in a local holding facility because the plane he was to take was unable to land due to fog, high winds or blizzard conditions. Again, unless the detaining authority can find a non-secure placement for the juvenile, violation of the act will occur. At present, the state is working with the federal government to delineate an exception to the time provisions of the act because of weather or transportation problems, but this exception may present its own administrative problems because it requires state certification of facilities for sight-and-sound separation, something currently not in place.
The lack of knowledge of the requirements of the act has also caused some violations. For example, in some areas of the state, magistrates sentence juveniles to serve time in the local jail. This usually happens in connection with a charge of driving while intoxicated, which carries a mandatory three-day jail sentence. The jail has little choice but to accept the remanded juvenile, although this results in a violation under the act.
Efforts are underway to help sites report the required information each year and training is taking place at state trooper and VPSO academies across the state. It is hoped that these steps and additional assistance from Congress recognizing the unique conditions in Alaska will help to ensure that Alaska is in at least substantial compliance in the near future.
Cassie Atwell is a research associate with the Justice Center.