Citizens for Juvenile Justice
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Unlocking Potential | March 2014

Every year, hundreds of Massachusetts children who have never been found guilty of a crime are locked in in jail-like facilities while they await trial.  Others are locked up because they have violated a condition of probation by doing something like failing to attend school or arguing with their parent.  The majority of these kids have only low-level charges and pose little risk to themselves or others.  However, the Commonwealth spends millions of dollars to detain them, leading to worse outcomes for both kids and communities.

Detention is traumatic – disrupting normal adolescent development and interfering with education. It also significantly reduces kids’ chances of growing up into successful, law-abiding adults. Unlocking Potential: Addressing the overuse of juvenile detention in Massachusetts highlights why detention is harmful to kids, whom we detain, and which alternatives to detention are working well in Massachusetts. It also calls attention to work that still needs to be done, including the need to expand models already being developed at the local level to reduce juvenile incarceration around the Commonwealth.

Key findings include:

A number of system stakeholders are engaged in innovative work to reduce unnecessary incarceration, including:

While these efforts are helping to reduce the number of kids who experience the detrimental impacts of detention, more work needs to be done.  Citizens for Juvenile Justice recommends that Massachusetts:


For a PDF copy of the report, please click HERE.

For a copy of the press release, please click HERE.


A companion report by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, Unlocking Potential: Examining the Funding of Juvenile Detention and Effective Alternatives in Massachusetts, explores budget trends for juvenile detention over time. It looks at newer alternative programs for kids entering the juvenile justice system, and compares costs across the detention continuum. The report finds that placement in a secure facility is not only the most harmful option for kids, it is the most expensive. A community placement in foster care is the least expensive detention option costing less than half a placement in secure facilities. Alternatives to detention are even less expensive than foster care and keep non-violent kids out of secure facilities. The report further finds that the number of alternative placements is increasing, but that implementation has been slow and uneven. This report is available at


These reports were released on March 25, 2014 by Citizens for Juvenile Justice and the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center at a forum hosted by Bingham McCutchen LLP. CfJJ's presentation on its report is available here.

This research was funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. We thank them for their support but acknowledge that the findings and conclusions presented in this report are those of Citizens for Juvenile Justice alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Foundation.


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