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Early intervention for juveniles

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Juvenile Justice

The ability of juvenile judges to step into the lives of young people and try to prevent them from entering the court system has been enhanced.

A new law takes effect July 1 allowing courts to coordinate intervention programs at the local level, and some courts statewide are already participating in a national grant-funded pilot program to assess at-risk youth and how more juveniles can be kept out of the detention system.

Even as new and non-traditional options are embraced, some in the juvenile justice system say these early intervention efforts don’t compensate for what else is happening in Indiana’s juvenile justice system and on balance the system is not always doing what they see as best for children.

“This is a give and take process that has both good and bad,” said Vanderburgh Superior Juvenile Judge Brett Niemeier. “I think we’re ahead of the curve in many ways, and everyone has become more diligent in finding alternatives. But the bad is that sometimes when you’re trying to find what’s best for everyone, you almost feel as though your hands are tied and what you have to do isn’t what you think is the best solution.”

HEA 1107

Starting July 1, the juvenile courts will have more authority as provided by House Enrolled Act 1107. Authored by Rep. Kathy Richardson, R-Noblesville, the law permits local judges to create voluntary preventive mentoring and tutoring programs for kids and teens who school officials identify as at-risk for suspension, expulsion, or referral into the juvenile court system.
 

Nation Nation

The law stems from a model program Hamilton Superior Judge Steven Nation created in Westfield, which he says has been successful since it began in 2009. The judge believes the program has helped prevent juveniles from entering the criminal justice system.

“We’re hoping that they might never be identified or labeled as a juvenile with a cause number in our system,” he said. “Instead of sitting back and waiting for something bad to happen, and trying to correct the problem later, we’re trying to address the problem in the beginning.”

While each county will have flexibility in establishing its program, Judge Nation says the approach taken in Hamilton County is through the probation department and initially involved individuals who are already in the system. Adults and high school students have volunteered their time to mentor and tutor those who need it, he said.

So far, it’s working. Judge Nation pointed to two students who had disciplinary problems at school and were on the road to suspension or expulsion – one with a father in prison for killing the mother and another whose aggressive behavior led to the father suffering a fatal heart attack after the child struck him in the chest with a baseball. In both cases, the juveniles were assigned volunteer mentors who have worked with them closely. The judge believes those relationships kept the juveniles out of the court system.

“Some people say you can’t fix it, that they’ll be in the system no matter what,” Judge Nation said. “We’d have to write off all these kids if that were true, and I just can’t accept that.”

Detention alternatives, risk assessment

The Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative through the Annie E. Casey Foundation centered on Indiana as the first state to attempt a partnership addressing disproportionate minority contact with the system, and Marion County was the first site several years ago to focus on detention alternatives such as the creation of a risk assessment tool that uses day and evening reporting, curfew enhancements, home counseling, and programs for lower offenses. The county saw a significant decrease in detentions, and now as part of a three-year grant cycle other counties are being brought into that fold. Lake, Porter, and Tippecanoe counties are the first, and others are expected to begin using the program later this year.

In Porter County, Superior Judge Mary Harper has been leading an effort to create a risk assessment tool for those who might have mental-health issues – something that other counties are also starting to participate in through mental-health diversion programs. Judge Harper said she’s observed about a 50 percent success rate when it comes to identifying those who can be diverted without entering the juvenile system.

“This is an important part of what Indiana is working on as far as juvenile justice, and hopefully we can establish this statewide,” she said. “It’s not simply a detention initiative, though. This is a great opportunity to expand involvement with the community and have that broad input from education officials and the mental health professionals, as well as just those in the courts and with law enforcement.”

Broader picture

While juvenile judges are excited about some of these new options, they express concern about the overall state of the system given changes in recent years. One of the most significant changes that has impacted the courts began in 2009, when during a special session of the Indiana Legislature lawmakers serving on a conference committee took away what had been judges’ decision-making power on juvenile placement and gave it to the state Department of Child Services. Juvenile judges, advocates, and lawmakers expressed outrage about the change they say they didn’t know was being discussed, but efforts to repeal that provision have not been successful, and the law remains intact. Since the law took effect, the DCS has approved about six out-of-state placements, according to director James Payne, and juvenile judges say overall placements are down significantly, as the law took away state funding for secure detention facilities and left that to counties to pay for if a judge ordered it.

For some of the juvenile judges on the front line of these cases, fewer placement options is not a positive.

Judge Niemeier says the fact that “every rock is being uncovered to see if placements are practical or make sense” is a good change, but he doesn’t like the outcome when the result often means settling with a placement alternative that isn’t the best for the child. For example, he and other juvenile judges say that sending a child back to the family is often the opposite of what’s needed and the available state providers the DCS approves aren’t as trusted by a local juvenile judge.

St. Joseph Juvenile Judge Peter Nemeth agrees.

“The mantra of our DCS has been that every case can be solved by sending kids back home to the parents or situation that created this problem,” he said. “They are very out of touch with the reality of what we’re seeing from the bench.”

Judge Nemeth says his placements overall have gone down in the past year, and that has directly corresponded to costs rising and success rates decreasing in keeping juveniles from repeating illegal behaviors. While he sees early intervention as a positive, the judge says he often faces difficulty on the local end from school officials in working with the courts on HEA 1107-type programs.

“Some of these programs might work in some places, but not everywhere. That flies in the face of judging each case on its merits, and it goes to taking (authority) away from counties and placing it with the state. No one is happy with what’s happening on that, and I think we’ve been on a down slide for some time,” he added.•

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  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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