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More Indiana Counties Try an Alternative to Locking Kids Up

More than one-third of Indiana's counties are now participating in the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative, which gives judges more choice in sentencing young people. (Cynthia Carter)
More than one-third of Indiana's counties are now participating in the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative, which gives judges more choice in sentencing young people. (Cynthia Carter)
February 3, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS - Indiana Supreme Court Justice Steven David calls the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative the "greatest reform" he's ever seen and now, one-third of Indiana's counties are participating.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation model is based on the assumption that sometimes, a young person who's done something wrong needs to be locked up, but in other cases kids need to be sent home. Justice David said he was reluctant about the idea at first, but realized it helps prevent them from getting into trouble repeatedly.

"Unfortunately some children still need to be detained," he says. "And the kids that can be other places, they can get the care, rehabilitation, the assistance, the mental health - whatever they need. "

Thirteen Indiana counties have recently signed up to participate, for a total of 32 in the state. It got its start in Marion County in 2006, and in the first few years, the county had reduced admissions to juvenile detention facilities by more than 65 percent.

The Casey Foundation says not every child needs to be held in detention. Senior Associate Gail Mumford says there's a big difference in the sentence given to a young person who comes to court in handcuffs and prison garb, and one who's brought from home by family members.

"Despite how careful we are, there's an assumption about a kid who's in custody," says Mumford. "There's a presumption of guilt - something wrong, something bad, something dangerous."

Mumford says it's important to remember they are children, and they need help.

Mumford says kids have a better chance of avoiding trouble if they have support.

"We want to keep as many kids in the community as possible and surround them with services and options to ensure that, number one, they meet their day in court, and number two, that they avoid further violations of the law," she says.

According to Justice David, judges, law enforcement officers and probation officers think it's the best juvenile justice reform step Indiana has taken. David says young people make up 25 percent of Indiana's population, but they are 100 percent of the future.

"It's all about putting the right kids in the right place, for the right amount of time," says David. "It's a phenomenal process."

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - IN