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Allen County could revamp juvenile detention practices

Saturday, July 27, 2013 - 6:44 am

A request for Allen County to be part of a statewide expansion of a juvenile detention alternatives program has been filed, with the judge who requested it believing that it will enhance public safety through the use of programs that allow for youthful offenders to grow into being productive adults.

Judge Daniel Heath of the Allen Superior Court's Family Relations Division signed the letter of interest earlier this week that requested Allen County be considered for the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative – also known as JDAI – which is a detention reform and improvement initiative established nationally by the Anne E. Casey Foundation.

It is designed to steer low-risk youth from secure detention into other types of training and development programs, which has the effect of, at a minimum, reducing instances of overcrowding and creating savings for taxpayers simply through decreased incarceration in juvenile centers.

Heath said Friday that key dates remaining this year are in October, when JDAI training is conducted in Indianapolis, then November when community readiness assessments are to be completed and returned, and then the big one: the preliminary determination of the next expansion sites, on Dec. 6.

Heath, who joined the Family Relations Division earlier this year after being on the bench in the Civil Division since 1996, said that exploring any opportunities to treat youth offenders in a more humane way than detention is "self-evident. There is a difference between juveniles and adults in the understanding of consequences of their actions."

"None of this is to indicate that Allen County is doing a poor job. We're not," Heath said. "This is sort of the next step we can take to improve the process. I think that's a moral obligation that we have. We have a moral obligation to assess what we're doing and attempt to find ways to improve."

Kathryn Dolan, the chief information officer for the Indiana Supreme Court, praised Heath and the Allen County judiciary for requesting to be considered for the program.

"The more research has been done, the more people look at it, this seems like the right way to go," Dolan said. "It's not simple. It takes work. It takes extra work, to make sure the program is effective."

Dolan added. "I can tell you that there is significant interest in this program, statewide, because of the positive outcomes it can produce. It is important for public safety to continue to assess how best to handle juvenile offenses. And that might mean secure detention. But it might not. Instead, it's a method of figuring out where they should go."

Heath said that Allen County regularly detains around 100 juveniles in secure detention but that his research shows that communities who implement JDAI not only reduce the number of detained youths, they also have seen a reduction in crime.

"I think that is the outcome you want, and that is the most relevant aspect of this initiative: How do you take that kid and send them in a different direction?" Heath said.