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Model Programs Guide Literature Review: Alternatives to Detention and Confinement

NCJ Number
Date Published
February 2024

This literature review examines interventions that have been developed or used to replace secure detention or confinement, beginning with definitions and scope of the issue, and continues on to discuss its consequences, residential alternatives, community-based alternatives, theoretical frameworks, considerations about alternatives to secure detention and confinement, outcome evidence, and conclusions.


This literature review looks at the consequences of juvenile secure detention and confinement as well as possible alternatives. Starting with a discussion of definitions and scope of the issue relating to juvenile justice processing in the United States, and data trends showing the volume of activity at the different stages of the system, the document is divided into the following sections: consequences of secure detention and confinement; residential alternatives to secure detention and confinement; benefits and consequences of any out-of-home placement; community-based alternatives to detention and confinement; theoretical frameworks; considerations related to alternatives to secure detention and confinement; outcome evidence; conclusion; and references. Community-based alternatives include probation, electronic monitoring, and community-based treatment; residential alternatives include group homes, residential treatment centers; and shelter care. The review concludes that research evidence strongly supports reducing or eliminating the use of punitive and non-treatment-oriented detention and incarceration facilities, and states that regardless of the setting, successful interventions with youths include specific characteristics, which are discussed in the review. It also concludes that research on effective juvenile justice intervention consistently indicates the following: youths with low risk for reoffending should be diverted from the juvenile justice system; youths with moderate or high risk for reoffending should be subject to the minimal level of supervision and control, consistent with public safety, and be provided with appropriate, effective therapeutic services; subjecting youth who offend to punishment beyond that which is inherent in the level of control necessary for public safety is likely to be counterproductive to recidivism; and rehabilitation treatments have potential to substantially reduce recidivism.

Date Published: February 1, 2024