Juvenile Facility Operations

Fundamental Needs

OJJDP's Conditions of Confinement Research Report (Parent et al., 1994) provides a comprehensive analysis of conditions in juvenile confinement facilities. In particular, the study measured facilities' conformance to 46 assessment criteria that reflected existing minimum national and professional standards in 12 areas:

  • Living space.
  • Health care.
  • Food, clothing, and hygiene.
  • Living accommodations.
  • Security.
  • Control of suicidal behavior.
  • Inspections and emergency preparedness.
  • Education.
  • Recreation.
  • Treatment services.
  • Access to community.
  • Limits on staff discretion.

The 12 areas were each placed in 1 of 4 broad categories (basic needs, order and safety, programming, and juvenile rights). The study examined each facility's conformance with the 12 areas of conditions of confinement. The percentage of facilities that conformed to all criteria in any of the 12 areas ranged from 25 to 85 percent, underscoring a disparity in practices and a national need for improved operations.

Some special problems -- such as suicidal behavior, injuries to residents, injuries to staff, and lawsuits -- were attributable to isolated events. The study found, however, that most operational problems were correlated with pervasive deficiencies in conditions of confinement. To improve such conditions, the study recommended developing performance-based standards for juvenile facilities. Conditions of confinement, however, are only one part of the larger and more complex measure of juvenile facilities commonly referred to as "quality of life." The study's recommendation of performance-based standards resulted from the finding that high levels of compliance with policy-based criteria did not necessarily result in improved conditions of confinement, suggesting the need for improved standards and different ways to evaluate quality of life.

Key Elements for Operation

JAIBG Program Purpose Area 1 suggests that a new facility's operation should be as efficient as possible. Ideally, the facility should be a best practices program. The idea of starting a program from scratch or building a facility or operation from the ground up appeals to most juvenile justice practitioners largely because it frees them from all of the "baggage" of past practices. Problems arise, however, when practitioners must conceptualize what kind of program they want (i.e., the principles of running an institution) and determine how to make it happen (i.e., the practice of institutional operations or process).

If successful facility operations were easy to develop, more model programs would exist. Although a model program is difficult to develop, there are sufficient resources (knowledge derived from lessons learned and technology derived from best practices) to guide the development of exemplary programs. This section serves as an operations guide, setting forth steps to take, knowledge and resources to acquire, and people to talk to in order to operate an effective facility. In particular, it outlines three categories of information: (1) organizational prerequisites (components that must be in place before program development can occur), (2) program principles to guide operations, and (3) staffing and management principles to guide implementation. The information provided here does not include standards by which to measure or evaluate facility operations. Instead, this section identifies key elements that should be addressed. If any one of these elements is missing or not fully developed, a facility administrator should be prepared to explain why.

Organizational prerequisites
Safety and security. Safety and security are fundamental prerequisites of program development. Programs cannot grow and evolve unless residents and staff are safe and secure -- both physically and emotionally. Physical aspects of safety and security include a new facility's design and construction and policies and procedures that control or prevent juveniles' access to contraband and/or weapons. Emotional safety and security means that residents and staff feel safe from fear or harm.

Order and organization. Organization is the backbone of program development, the structure upon which effective programs are built. Previte (1994) refers to this structure as "The Code" and identifies three components: order, tradition, and discipline.

  • Order includes a building's neatness and cleanliness, its adherence to a daily routine or schedule, and a feeling -- among residents and staff -- of knowing what will happen next. To achieve order, an institution must have a clear and comprehensive policy and procedures manual. To develop the manual, facilities should refer to the series of publications on ACA standards (American Correctional Association, 1991a, 1991b, 1991c, 1994), the series' companion works (American Correctional Association, 1987, 1992a, 1992b, 1992c), chapter 7 of the Desktop Guide to Good Juvenile Detention Practice (Roush, 1996b), and products from the OJJDP-sponsored Performance-Based Standards Project managed by the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators (CJCA).

  • Tradition includes customs, routines, songs, and other activities unique to a facility. With a new facility, the possibilities for tradition are endless. Traditions need not be large or complicated; they may be as simple as serving chocolate milk at meals or celebrating birthdays with cake and ice cream. The purpose of tradition is to generate an identity within the facility.

  • Discipline, by identifying appropriate behaviors and correcting inappropriate behaviors, is a facility's method of building character, pride, and integrity. It involves teaching a collectively endorsed set of appropriate behaviors and values for staff and residents. These behaviors and values are explained in greater detail in the discussion of program principles below.

Conditions of confinement. Conditions of confinement, a model of organizational structure based on the Youth Law Center's C.H.A.P.T.E.R.S. model (Soler et al., 1990), identifies eight areas of institutional operations most likely to be targets of litigation. NJDA recommends that facilities use this model to assess their potential liability before developing programs. Each area in the C.H.A.P.T.E.R.S. model is identified below, and sources of information relevant to each area are cited.

  • Classification and Admissions. Classification systems are explained in detail in Howell (1997) and OJJDP's Guide for Implementing the Comprehensive Strategy for Serious, Violent, and Chronic Juvenile Offenders (Howell, 1995a). Information about admissions appears in American Correctional Association, 1987, 1992c; Christy, 1994; and Roush, 1994, 1996c.

  • Medical and Health Care Services. Although the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) (1999) and ACA (1991a, 1991b, 1991c) both have standards that address medical and healthcare services, NCCHC's are more comprehensive. Additional information on this topic appears in Morris, Anderson, and Baker (1996) and Owens (1994).

  • Access Issues. These issues concern a confined juvenile's right to have access to information and individuals outside the facility (e.g., through mail, telephone, visitation, and communication with attorneys and the courts). Bell (1990, 1992, 1996) explains these rights and discusses related standards and case law.

  • Programs. ACA standards again provide guidance and direction. According to Soler et al. (1990), the courts' primary programming interests are recreation and education. Information about recreation is available in the Desktop Guide (Roush, 1996b) and Calloway (1995). Developmentally appropriate best practices are found in Barrueta-Clement et al. (1984) and Kostelnik, Soderman, and Whiren (1999), and guidance on correctional education programs is available in the Desktop Guide (Roush, 1996b); Gemignani (1994); Hodges, Giuliotti, and Porpotage (1994); Leone, Rutherford, and Nelson (1991); and Wolford and Koebel (1995).

  • Training. See "Training" section in this Bulletin.

  • Environmental Issues. ACA standards address these issues, which include compliance with State and local regulations on health, safety, and sanitation.

  • Confinement and Restraints. Information appears in the ACA standards, the Desktop Guide (Roush, 1996b), Mitchell and Varley (1991), and the NCCHC standards (1999).

  • Safety. The best sources of information on resident safety are Soler et al. (1990), Hayes (1998), Rowan (1989), Parent et al. (1994), the ACA standards, and the Desktop Guide.

Staff. Two organizational prerequisites relate to staff. First, through a central personnel office or consultation with personnel specialists, a new facility should develop an effective program for staff recruitment, selection, retention, training, and development. Staff training and development are addressed in detail later in this Bulletin.

Second, through its policies and procedures, a facility must ensure that it has sufficient staff to sustain programming. This is a controversial issue, because staffing is the single largest cost in a facility's operational budget and because best practices offer no hard-and-fast rules about staffing levels. Staffing levels depend on many factors, including a program's philosophy, the quality of interactions between staff and residents, the education and training levels of staff, and the physical plant. Best practices are typically associated with facilities that have a small number of youth (6­10) under the direct supervision of any one line staff member (Roush, 1997).

Density. Density (the number of people per unit of space in a facility) is a significant factor in the effectiveness of an institutional program (Roush, 1999). When density creates problems in a juvenile facility, the institution is said to be crowded. The best facilities have plans, policies, procedures, or strategies to address crowding (Burrell et al., 1998; Previte, 1997).

Program principles
Successful programs have core principles or assumptions to guide problem solving and decision making. These principles define a program's purpose and content, articulate what an institution hopes to accomplish, and specify the operations that it will use to accomplish its goals. Frequently called core values, program principles are decisions about the type of facility required to accomplish program goals and the number and type of staff members needed to implement the program.

Many different program models address a wide array of offenders and intervention strategies. In completing a master plan, a jurisdiction identifies the characteristics of its juvenile offender population. It then chooses a program model best suited to the offender population. Research into best practices has revealed that the following program components are successful in juvenile detention and corrections:

Effective assessment. The better the match between offender needs and facility programs and services, the greater the likelihood of success. To assess offender needs, a facility must use effective needs assessment strategies (Agee, 1995; Bell, 1996; Howell, 1995b, 1997).

Behavior contracting. The use of behavior contracts with juvenile offenders is effective, especially when contracts focus on changing behaviors associated with criminal acts (Agee, 1995; Lipsey, 1992; Stumphauzer, 1979).

Cognitive programs. Cognitive restructuring (i.e, changing a juvenile's "self-talk") has produced successful outcomes for several decades. Adolescents, especially juvenile offenders, may have deficits in consequential thinking and alternative thinking. Their thinking is frequently illogical, and they have trouble changing irrational beliefs. Cognitive strategies that address these deficits further the goals of JAIBG by emphasizing accountability and personal responsibility (Agee, 1995; Gibbs et al., 1997; Glick, Sturgeon, and Venator-Santiago, 1998; Lipsey, 1992; Traynelis-Yurek, 1997).

Positive peer cultures. Although positive group dynamics is an important part of successful programs, the ultimate empowerment for youth is having the opportunity to solve their own problems. Researchers have shown that youth are more motivated to behave appropriately when other youth participate in decision making about the intervention. They also gain a greater sense of self-worth when they are able to help themselves and others (Brendtro and Ness, 1983; Ferrara, 1992; Vorrath and Brendtro, 1984; Wasmund, 1988).

Anger management. With violence becoming increasingly common in American society, youth in juvenile confinement facilities are becoming more comfortable using violence as a problem-solving strategy. Anger management, however, can be learned, and it is a prerequisite for meaningful and lasting behavior change among youth who have exhibited violent behavior (American Psychological Association, 1993; Chinn, 1996; Dobbins and Gatowski, 1996).

Discipline. Discipline, a vital part of effective programs, creates character, courage, pride, and integrity. An inescapable part of every juvenile confinement facility, discipline also sets the tone for all other program interventions. Effective discipline programs set high expectations for youth; employ graduated sanctions; emphasize corrective measures; encourage and celebrate appropriate behaviors, achievements, and accomplishments; and help youth to understand that disciplinary procedures are in their own best interest. Effective discipline programs require strong and committed staff members, who must make discipline part of their own lives -- not just part of their jobs.

Empathy training. Empathy training (one of the BARJ model's restorative elements) includes helping juveniles become aware of and empathize with their victims. Awareness and empathy are necessary precursors to feelings of guilt, shame, and remorse.

Social skills training. Most juvenile offenders lack adequate social skills. Many do not know how to relate to persons outside their family or gang. Experience indicates that social skills programming is an important part of juvenile detention and corrections programs (Roush, 1998).

Drug and alcohol abuse counseling. Many youth entering juvenile confinement facilities are under the influence of alcohol and/or other drugs or have a history of abusing these substances. Drug and alcohol counseling programs are therefore important ancillary services that can improve the effectiveness of model programs (Agee, 1995; Cellini, 1994; Howell, 1997).

Transition and aftercare services. Without transition and aftercare programs, changes occurring within an institutional setting are unlikely to have long-lasting effects. Transition programs move youth back into the community gradually. Aftercare involves having a specially trained aftercare worker or probation officer work with youth in the community for an extended period of time (until the youth is comfortable being back in the community or has met a specified set of criteria). As the number of youth in the juvenile justice system has increased, caseloads have become so large that aftercare and parole services officers have insufficient time to address all of the problems of the youth on their caseloads. Therefore, many youth's problems are unaddressed or neglected; without supervision, youth often quickly return to lives of drugs and crime (Agee, 1995; Altschuler and Armstrong, 1995; Howell, 1997; Lipsey, 1992).

When using any of the techniques above, facilities should explain related expectations clearly to each juvenile entering the facility. Expectations should be systematic (use a method to achieve goals); logical (make sense); rigorous (place high expectations on youth for improved performance); and balanced (emphasize strengths while administering sanctions/punishments).

Staffing and management principles
Recruitment, selection, retention, and development of good staff members are strengths of every successful program. Several organizations and individuals have examined the characteristics of effective juvenile justice staff (Glick, Sturgeon, and Venator-Santiago, 1998; Goldstein and Glick, 1987; Previte, 1994; Roush, 1996b). Lists of attributes compiled by researchers have been fairly similar and include such traits as patience, the ability to interact effectively with other people (i.e., social, communication, and relationship skills), cooperation, respect, empathy, the ability to work as a team player, alertness, physical strength, and optimism.

Once a facility hires good staff members, it needs to determine which management principles are linked to best practice operations. Four principles are presented below.6

Consistency. Best practice programs have highly consistent management principles. Consistency involves at least three elements.

  • Rules that provide structure and dependability but do not overwhelm youth. Rules should be clear and understandable. They should be few in number and general in nature. Realizing that not every misbehavior can be addressed by a specific rule, best practices programs have rules based on general principles (e.g., cooperation, respect, and responsibility). Rules and structure are the backbone of emotional and physical safety and provide the foundation for discipline and self-control in children (Humphrey, 1984). According to Previte (1994), rules are an institution's way of saying "I care" to youth.

  • Rule enforcement that is firm but fair. Because adolescents are often concerned with fairness, facilities should enforce rules in a firm and fair manner. While perceptions of unfairness generate feelings of anger and resentment, perceptions of fairness generate cooperation and increased safety. Being firm but fair means several things. It means that rules are enforced uniformly, with no second chances, excuses, or warnings (unless rules call for a warning). Rules are enforced matter-of-factly, without emotion on the part of staff. The staff member's role is simply to enforce rules, not to provide a lecture, sermon, or interrogation about a youth's knowledge of the rules. Violating a rule is a youth's choice; if the consequences for rule violations have been clearly specified in advance, the youth also chooses the consequence when he or she violates a rule. Being fair also means providing procedures for changing or eliminating unreasonable rules.

  • A social order. A facility needs to develop a social order (i.e., consistent rules that govern everyone in the facility, including staff) (Roush, 1984). There will always be two sets of rules -- one for staff (including rules that apply to facility operation) and one for residents. Best practices programs, however, have certain rules of conduct that apply to everyone. Such a social order encourages the development of respect and dignity.

Involvement. Involvement means that a program includes activity, interaction, and staff-resident relationships. Regardless of their content, all effective programs are active -- with youth in the best programs spending as many as 14 hours each day in structured and supervised activities (American Correctional Association, 1991a, 1991c). In addition to being enjoyable, active programs are physically and mentally challenging. They are purposeful, educational, and helpful (Roush, 1993). They are also outlets for youthful energy: youth in active programs are tired and ready to sleep at the end of the day.

Involvement also requires interaction between staff and residents, ranging from active supervision of an activity (residents are within earshot of or only a few feet away from staff) to actual staff participation in an activity.

The essence of involvement in juvenile facilities is the relationship between residents and staff. Staff members should be involved in juveniles' lives in a constructive way. In the best programs, staff members have chosen their jobs primarily because they like youth and genuinely want to help. Without compromising a facility's structure and order, these staff members listen to the residents, and, as Previte (1994) explains, "Listening creates hope, and hope is power."

Emphasis on positive consequences. Successful programs emphasize the positive (Carrera, 1996). In fact, they use positive consequences at least four times more often than negative sanctions (Madsen, Becker, and Thomas, 1968). Effective programs must be both demanding and encouraging and must communicate both positive and negative messages appropriately, clearly, and without compromise.

To achieve the balance referred to in the BARJ model, juvenile justice practitioners must be open to including positive youth development programs, rather than focusing exclusively on problems, needs, skill deficits, and other "negatives." Matching programs and services to offender needs and deficits may be effective; however, as Karen Pittman of the International Youth Foundation has observed, being problem free is not the same as being fully prepared (1996). A positive approach focusing on the strengths of youth -- rather than one focusing solely on their problems or needs -- has produced effective outcomes (Brendtro and Ness, 1995; Checkoway and Finn, 1992; Clark, 1995, 1996; Leffert et al., 1996; Seita, Mitchell, and Tobin, 1996). Positive youth development programs that can be used in juvenile confinement facilities include sports and recreation activities, camping programs, service programs, mentoring programs, school-to-work programs, and support for teen parents.

Respect. No management principles will work without respect. Respect means treating juveniles like worthwhile human beings, regardless of their behavior, appearance, offense history, psychological assessment, hygiene, or volatility. It means refraining from name calling, threats, put downs, and cursing. According to youth, respect is the single most important trait of a good staff member in any type of program. A respectful and nonjudgmental approach separates the deed from the doer, allowing staff to treat youth with respect no matter how reprehensible the youth's conduct may be.

Respect leads staff to focus on similarities (rather than differences) between themselves and the juveniles under their care. For example, when staff of the Utah County Juvenile Detention Center (Provo, UT) were asked to explain their motivation for working with youth in the juvenile justice system, the majority stated, "These are my brothers and sisters who are in trouble. I am here to help them."

6 For more information on management principles and other operations issues, jurisdictions should call the OJJDP National Training and Technical Assistance Center at 800­830­4031. Additional sources of information on operating a juvenile facility also appear at the end of this Bulletin, under "For Further Information."


Construction, Operations, and Staff Training for Juvenile Confinement Facilities JAIBG Bulletin   ·  December 1999