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Editorial: County staying at forefront of juvenile justice

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Bartholomew County officials are working to reduce the number of juveniles detained within the criminal justice system.

That’s because detention, in the case of some youths, could do more harm than good.

The county is joining Indiana’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative in an effort to determine what’s in the best interest of each juvenile and understand what procedures will work best.

That’s important, because each juvenile is different and faces varying circumstances.

This decision is in keeping with past practices locally.

Bartholomew County has developed a reputation statewide for its progressive approach to juvenile justice since 1992, when local leaders approved building a juvenile detention center.

Today, that facility is known as the Juvenile Services Center, which has four buildings, only one of which is used for detention. Other parts of the center are used for shelter, day treatment for abused or neglected children and education.

The county’s effort to better serve juveniles through tailored approaches will be supported with state funds. Bartholomew and 10 other counties will receive $5.5 million over the next two years.

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

Most of the money will be spent to hire a juvenile justice strategist, who will collect and analyze data in an effort to create the most equitable, efficient and effective juvenile justice system possible.

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

Bartholomew Circuit Judge Stephen Heimann and Juvenile Magistrate Heather Mollo said they believe the JDAI program will reduce the county’s juvenile detention population without jeopardizing public safety.

State data support that notion.

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 fell 16 percent compared with juveniles in nonparticipating counties.

In 2012, the Bartholomew County Youth Services Center detained 276 juvenile offenders. An additional 273 were brought to the facility on a drop-off basis.

Two main goals for the county’s program are:

  • More effective supervision of young offenders who are not being detained for a long period of time.
  • Ensuring their attendance at future legal hearings.

Heimann and Mollo recognize that detention, while necessary when juveniles are a danger to others and themselves, isn’t right for all juveniles.

Looking for alternatives while at the same time helping juveniles and keeping the public safe is a sign that the county is trying to stay at the forefront of juvenile justice and is working with the best interests of youths in mind.

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