- Probation, Parole, and Reentry — Jefferson County Reforms Probation System: Continuing its probation reform campaign, the Jefferson County Family Court in Birmingham, Alabama has implemented a risk assessment instrument and structured decision-making grid to assist staff in making impartial, objective, and less restrictive dispositional decisions for adjudicated youth. These reforms ensure that dispositions are fair and that youth receive supervision consistent with their risk level. Jefferson County will continue its probation reforms by implementing differential supervision—a process that assigns caseloads to probation officers based on youth risk levels—and graduated sanctions, a response system that encourages youth to demonstrate positive behavior and comply with probation terms.
- Alternatives to Detention and Youth Prisons — State Establishes New Grant Program for Community-Based Alternatives to Incarceration: In 2009, the Alabama Department of Youth Services (DYS) set aside more than $1 million to fund a new competitive grant program that encourages Alabama courts to develop non-residential alternatives to incarceration that are tailored to local needs. The grant program is funded by savings realized by recent reductions in the number of youth committed to DYS. The grants are expected to fuel further reductions, creating additional cost savings that will be used to increase funding for grants in future years. Applicants must clearly define outcome measures that will determine effectiveness and they must prove that the program they propose addresses children’s most pressing needs.
- School-to-Prison Pipeline — Birmingham City Schools Pass Progressive School Offense Protocol: A new school offense protocol, developed by the Birmingham City Schools Collaborative, is designed to reduce student arrests in schools and improve graduation rates by ensuring that minor student misbehavior is addressed in the schools, rather than in juvenile court. Studies have shown that a first-time arrest during high school nearly doubles the chances a student will drop out of school; a court appearance nearly quadruples the chances of a student dropping out. The protocol establishes a three-step process for handling minor infractions in school: a student’s first offense results in a warning notice from the school resource officer, the second offense results in a referral to the School Conflict Workshop program, and the third offense results in a referral to court. The Birmingham agreement is based on a similar agreement in Clayton County, Georgia. Since the Georgia agreement was signed in 2004, court referrals have been reduced by 60 percent and graduation rates have increased 20 percent. Adopted on October 13, 2009; effective January 1, 2010.
- Girls in the System — Legislature Creates Commission on Girls and Women in the Criminal Justice System: The Alabama legislature created the Commission on Girls and Women in the Criminal Justice System to study the conditions, needs, issues, and problems of the criminal justice system in Alabama as it affects women and girls in the state. Based on research, investigation, and review, the commission is charged with developing comprehensive, evidence-based recommendations for how to fix the system’s shortcomings. H.B. 519/Act 2010-517, signed into law April 21, 2010; effective July 1, 2010.
- Facility Closures and Downsizing — State Reduces Number of Confined Youth: Thanks in large part to strong executive and judicial leadership, Alabama has dramatically reduced the number of youth committed to secure facilities. The average daily population of the Department of Youth Services (DYS) shrank from 1,084 in May 2007 to 490 in February 2012, a 55 percent reduction. Prior to decreasing the number of commitments to secure facilities, DYS was spending nearly 75 percent of its budget on incarcerating youth, over a third of whom were locked up primarily for status offenses and technical violations. Thanks to the money it saved on incarceration, the department was able to increase its funding of non-residential communitybased services by $2.4 million between FY 2007 and FY 2010, despite drastic cuts to the DYS budget; more than $7 million was provided for non-residential community-based programs in 2011 alone. Counties participating in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) drove the initial reductions in commitments in 2007. Deeper reductions statewide were inspired by the passage of juvenile justice reform legislation in 2008 and the creation of a new grant process for community-based alternatives in 2009-2010 (see separate entry under “Alternatives to Detention and Youth Prisons”).