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Alternatives to Juvenile Detention

Alternatives to Juvenile Detention

Journal of Juvenile Justice

Synopsis: Community-based juvenile programs focused on skill-building may be cost-effective alternatives to detention.


Community Need

After decades of the belief that juvenile delinquents should be managed through detention, both researchers and practitioners are discovering that there is a need for a change in thinking towards community-based alternatives. Research has shown that the detention of youth can have deleterious results, including recidivism, the very outcome that the practice of detention was meant to avoid.


Practitioners are now seeking more effective alternatives to juvenile detention. One such alternative is being implemented in two counties in Southeast Washington State. The two participating counties consistently rank over the state average for juvenile arrests. The program, Fast Accountability Skills Training (FAST), aims to increase accountability and self-awareness in probation violators through a number of strength-based concepts and goal setting.


Primary Research Question(s)

  1. Does the FAST program reduce recidivism and/or future probation violations among participants?
  2. Is the FAST program equivalent to detention when evaluating outcomes?

Research Design

This program evaluation used a retrospective statistical matching approach. One hundred twenty-four youth participated in the program. Participation in the program was offered in lieu of a probation violation hearing and was facilitated by Probation Officers that were experienced in cognitive behavior intervention programs. A comparison group of youth receiving detention was then established. The two groups were compared at the end of a two-and-a-half-year period using a number of statistical analyses.


The authors acknowledge that certain aspects of the program design may have contributed to these results, including the short duration of FAST and the evolving program curriculum during the first few months. This limited the ability to ascertain specific strengths and weaknesses of the program.



Despite an 82% completion rate among participants, the FAST program was determined to have no statistically significant impact on participants’ recidivism or future violations when compared to youth who did not participate. This led researchers to examine and subsequently conclude that the FAST program was at least as effective as detention in reducing recidivism and future violations.


In conjunction with analysis of similar studies, there is compelling evidence to conclude that community-based alternatives to detention are worth continuing exploration. Since the FAST program was shown to be no better or worse than detention when considering the two outcomes evaluated, it would be prudent to take additional outcomes into consideration. An alternative, such as the FAST program, is shown to be less costly and have fewer negative emotional and societal impacts than detention. As the researchers argue, this should be adequate motivation for courts to consider expanding the creation and utilization of alternative programs in the juvenile justice system, including FAST.


van Wormer, J. G., & Campbell, C. (2016). Developing an alternative juvenile programming effort to reduce detention overreliance. Journal of Juvenile Justice, 5(2), 12.