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Indiana Judges Have Options for Juvenile Offenders

A move to reform the juvenile justice system by offering alternatives other than juvenile detention is now in its 25th year. (
A move to reform the juvenile justice system by offering alternatives other than juvenile detention is now in its 25th year. (
April 10, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS -- Young people in trouble with the law in Indiana have benefited from an updated approach to juvenile justice.

It's the 25th anniversary of the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative. Indiana was one of the first states to embrace it, and state Supreme Court Justice Steven David called JDAI a "game changer.”

David said in the past, judges had to make a decision whether to lock kids up or send them home. Now, there are other options to help those who are struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues, which helps judges make these tough calls and improve public safety.

"Sometimes you detain the child because there was inadequate supervision or parenting. Most often, you detain the child, certainly if they were dangerous, but if you didn't want them to get in more trouble - if you were worried about them,” David said. "So, you would err on the side of detention."

In Indiana, 31 counties have implemented JDAI, representing about 70 percent of the state's 10- to 17-year-olds. Justice David said it has reduced the number of kids being held in secure detention by about 40 percent.

He said many different agencies are collaborating to do what's best for young people, and he praised state lawmakers from both sides of the aisle for their support.

"We're not releasing children and then they're causing more trouble, and we're fixing one problem that's causing another,” he said. "So down the road, we're keeping kids out of detention, we're giving alternatives; they're not committing more offenses and they're less likely to end up in the Department of Correction."

The Casey Foundation says its JDAI model affects about one-quarter of the U.S. youth population.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - IN