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County officials seek detention alternatives

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County officials hope to reduce the number of juveniles detained within the criminal justice system here by joining Indiana’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative and using its grant money to create a more effective juvenile justice strategy.

Criminal justice experts including Bartholomew Circuit Judge Stephen Heimann agree juveniles who are a danger to themselves and to others should be detained in a secure facility.

“But for some juvenile offenders, detention is going to be harmful,” Heimann said. “We need the knowledge to understand what procedures are most effective for each individual, based on his or her own unique circumstances.”

To ensure each young offender receives an individually tailored, evidence-based intervention, $5.5 million in state funding will be spent in Bartholomew and 10 other counties during the next two years, according to the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute.

Bartholomew will be one of 18 Hoosier counties joining Indiana’s 8-year-old Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative.

JDAI funds will be used to eliminate unnecessary detention of youths, reduce racially disproportionate contact, improve outcomes and welfare of youth and keep the public safe while saving taxpayer money, according to the institute.

Most of the money will be spent to hire a juvenile justice strategist, who will collect and analyze local data in an effort to create the most equitable, efficient and effective juvenile justice system possible, Bartholomew County Juvenile Magistrate Heather Mollo said.

The remaining funds will be used on computers, software, other materials and expenses, Heimann said.

Analyzed data will go to a collaborative group made up of representatives from the courts, local government, detention administrators, schools and child services organizations.

This group will have the responsibility to tap into the community’s human and financial resources to develop policies and procedures that will ensure that each juvenile offender is put in the right place for the right reasons for the right amount of time, Heimann said.

“We already have a core group in the community that understands what we’re trying to do with this process,” Heimann said, referring to a Youth Services Center advisory board, which includes representatives from mental health, schools, probation, law enforcement, and the Indiana Department of Child Services. “We’ll be adding to that group.”

The expanded organization will have access to the JDAI network of more than 200 jurisdictions across the country, as well as support for training, technical assistance and travel to state and national conferences and training sessions.

The information will be used to determine the effectiveness of current programs for juvenile offenders, as well as established local alternatives such as electronic home monitoring, Mollo said.

The information also could lead to new programs, Heimann added.

In 2012, 276 juvenile offenders were detained at the Bartholomew County Youth Services Center while an additional 273 were brought to the facility on a drop-off basis, according to the center’s annual report.

While data must be gathered and analyzed before determining how many young offenders might be affected by the JDAI programming, Heimann and Mollo are confident the new program will help reduce Bartholomew County’s juvenile detention population without jeopardizing public safety.

State figures show the eight Indiana counties that initially adopted JDAI reduced their average daily population in secure detention by 37.7 percent. There was no evidence of a negative impact on public safety in any of the counties, according to the institute. Repeat offenses by program participants were down 16 percent compared with juveniles in nonparticipating counties.

The two main goals for the Bartholomew County program will be to provide more effective supervision of young offenders who are not being severely detained and to ensure their attendance at future legal hearings, Mollo said.

There are several U.S. communities where the juvenile

justice system is viewed solely as a “court-probation-police” issue, Heimann said. The judge also cites what he calls a “silo” mentality among youth-based services in other cities, which means groups are reluctant to get involved in problem-solving that doesn’t fall within their own turf.

The result is that while there’s plenty of finger-pointing to assign blame or responsibility, the problem remains, the judge said.

“But in this community, we’re very fortunate that we are able to come together and break down the walls of those silos in order to work together,” Heimann said.

There also have been instances nationwide where inappropriate punishment has been handed down to a young person for no other reason than a personal grudge or dislike by someone who abused power or authority, Heimann said. He added that he wants safeguards in place to ensure that cannot happen locally in the future.

Bartholomew County became known as a progressive state leader in juvenile justice in 1992 when local leaders

approved building a juvenile detention center, Heimann said.

Known today as the Juvenile Services Center, only one of the four buildings is actually used for criminal detention. Most of the facility is utilized as a shelter, to provide day treatment to abused or neglected children and for educational purposes, Heimann said.

“We’ve been on the road of having right practices and trying to do the right thing for years,” Mollo said. “The Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative is a welcome addition because it’s an outside eye coming in helping us look at our data.”

The national juvenile justice reform initiative was developed by the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation 20 years ago. Its program and core strategies are now followed in hundreds of counties in 39 states and the District of Columbia.

As a statewide initiative that began in 2006 in Marion County, JDAI is supported by the Indiana General Assembly, the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, the Indiana Department of Correction, the Indiana Supreme Court and the Indiana Department of Child Services.

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