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Marion County a model for juvenile detention reforms

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Juvenile Justice

One Hoosier juvenile court system has made significant strides to improve its juvenile justice in recent years, becoming a nationally recognized court for innovative programs that other jurisdictions are encouraged to emulate.

Measures taken in the Marion Juvenile Court have had tangible consequences for the local and state system: a dramatic cut in the number of youth detained pending trial, mandatory reviews of delinquency petitions that has led to an estimated 50 percent hike in the rate of counsel representation, and an overall environment change that juvenile advocates and attorneys say makes the process less tenuous and more fair for everyone involved.

“We take kids’ rights very, very seriously,” Marion Juvenile Judge Marilyn Moores said. “A level playing field is the basis for all justice. Period. That’s what we’ve been trying to ensure.”

Three years ago, the system in Marion County was quite different: Judge Moores had just taken over the court from Judge James Payne, who’d been there for 22 years before being tapped to head the Indiana Department of Child Services. Children flooded the system, and rules of due process were often bypassed as juveniles frequently waived their right to counsel before ever consulting with a public defender. The detention center was declared unsafe and ridden by scandal after a federal probe in 2006 and reports of sexual abuse and misconduct were lodged against staff. Often, the center was packed beyond its capacity with youths crowded in cells.

Judge Moores took the bench in March 2005 and the Marion Superior Court’s Executive Committee- led at the time by then-presiding Superior Judge Cale Bradford- overhauled the system and laid a foundation for the transformation that’s been playing out since then.

The judge emphasized that her predecessor was instrumental in developing best practices in juvenile cases and cared deeply about making the court the best it could be, though she admittedly operates differently and has delegated some responsibility- such as the detention center operations- to those outside the juvenile court to improve efficiency.

“We were at a critical juncture,” Judge Moores said. “There was a big disconnect when I came here, but everyone came together in an incredible partnership of our juvenile justice community. Now, we’re a model and an impetus for additional reform of this system.”

To figure how to cut detention numbers and get at the root of the problem of why juveniles were in the system to begin with, Judge Moores decided early on that she needed to revamp how her court operated.

Initial Hearing Court

One of the reforms Judge Moores made was turning to an old law, but looking at it in a new way to determine whether the court could operate more efficiently. An answer came from Indiana Code 31-37-10-2, which allows a court to use a two-pronged approach in determining whether a delinquency petition should be filed with the court.

JudgeRather than just focusing on probable cause as most juvenile courts do, Judge Moores put into place a mechanism to utilize the second, less-used prong: even if probable cause exists, looking at whether a filing would be in the child’s or public’s best interest.

In the Initial Hearing Court, the prosecutor’s office presents a petition for the court to determine whether it will approve the filing and allow the case to proceed. Previously, five magistrates handled the initial hearings on dockets along with trials, review hearings, and child welfare cases and each didn’t have much time to devote to considering the petition outside of probable cause, Judge Moores said.

She turned to Magistrate Gary Chavers, who’d been the supervising attorney for the juvenile division of the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office for 22 years, to help institute change and create an Initial Hearing Court that opened a year ago. He is the sole magistrate concentrating on initial hearings for youth and serves as a “judicial gatekeeper” for the juvenile court.

Eight sessions are held a week for delinquency cases, Magistrate Chavers said.

Since the court began in May 2007, about 550 petitions have been rejected, and many have been school-related offenses, records show. During a six-month period ending Oct. 31, the court rejected 289 of 1,803 petitions filed for its approval- about 40 percent were school related. Although the court found probable cause, the magistrate didn’t find those filings would be in the best interest. He notes that some petitions are ultimately dismissed before reaching his initial hearing court- the prosecutor’s office rejects some, and others are put into pre-court diversion programs.

“It adds another layer of looking at whether it needs to go through the judicial process,” Magistrate Chavers said.

He said the Initial Hearing Court examines a child’s history and family situation, and reviews the preliminary inquiry by probation as well as the child’s juvenile record. By law, he’s able to take a case under advisement for 60 days to find out if a juvenile can go without any further problems before dismissing the case, the magistrate said.

“We’re trying not to criminalize these kids as much as possible and unnecessarily build up juvenile records,” he said.

The Initial Hearing Court has enabled the entire juvenile court to become more efficient, Magistrate Chavers said. The first four months of 2008 saw a 30 percent increase in the number of Child In Need of Services cases, he said, and the Initial Hearing Court has enabled an extra CHINS session to be added to each of the four magistrates’ courtrooms. Previously, six detention and two CHINS sessions were held each week; now five detention and three CHINS hearings are held, he said.

“I’m not sending those to trial in other courts, and that means they’ve got additional time,” Magistrate Chavers said. “Overall, this has helped in court processing and allowed us to become more efficient.”

The court has also worked to change how juveniles use their right to counsel, Magistrate Chavers said. Every child put into the juvenile detention center before an initial hearing gets to talk with a public defender before coming to court the following day, he said. That public defender will determine whether the family wants to hire a private attorney or go ahead with a public defender.

Juvenile 
                              Justice“A very important decision is made at that initial hearing, which is also the initial detention hearing,” he said. “We let very few proceed without a public defender, and that’s a change in philosophy from the past few years.”

Before allowing a child to waive their right to counsel, Magistrate Chavers said he makes sure that a probation form is signed and understood, that he explains their rights in court, and that the parents understand that a public defender can be immediately available and accommodate their schedules, he said. If any child or parent hesitates or has a juvenile record or felony offense, then the magistrate said he always appoints an attorney.

The county has come a long way, but the magistrate said that some children still waive their right to counsel and the county can’t catch every one. But he noted the General Assembly hasn’t made statewide changes- lawmakers failed to pass a bill last year mandating that every child have an attorney appointed. He noted that Marion County is different than other counties because it’s invested the money in recent years in indigent defense for juveniles and has its own juvenile division, where many do not. During conversations with other Hoosier juvenile jurists at statewide conferences, Magistrate Chavers said some have told him that their counties would go bankrupt if they were forced to pay for public defense for all juveniles.

Detention alternatives

Through the Initial Hearing Court and its detention alternative programs, the Marion Juvenile Court has seen a significant drop in the number of youth sent to its Juvenile Detention Center that has been plagued with problems. When Judge Moores took over the court in 2005, the 144-bed center regularly topped that level and neared 200. Now, that number has dropped to the high-80s to mid-90s, and the court’s been able to close two pod cells and cap the detainment number at 112.

The detention center population has dropped in large part to efforts adopted through the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Initiative, Judge Moores said. The court system has a three-year grant to pay for a Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) coordinator and risk-assessment tool in studying juvenile detention issues.

Nationally, the JDAI promotes policy change and practices to reduce reliance on secure confinement, improve public safety, and stimulate overall juvenile justice reforms. Indianapolis is the only Hoosier location of the JDAI’s 100 jurisdictions in 22 states and Washington, D.C.

Indiana is viewed as a success that JDAI coordinators on the national level hope can be emulated in other jurisdictions.

“Juvenile justice has been pretty broken for quite some time, and we’re convinced detention reform is a good portal for overall system reform,” said the JDAI’s Bart Lubow, director of the Program for High-Risk Youth. “This is one innovation that’s an interesting and different idea. What’s so positive about Marion County is the perspective of the leaders having the right attitude. They aren’t in this for the short term or under the mistaken impression that you do a little and poof, everything’s better. It’s a far cry from where it was three or four years ago.” 

Here, the Marion Juvenile Court has established a risk-assessment tool to reduce the number of juveniles being locked up. The local initiative focuses on a day and evening reporting, curfew enhancements, home counseling, and programs for lower offenses, according to Marion County’s JDAI coordinator Gael Deppert.

“We were locking up a lot of kids that didn’t present a risk to public safety,” Deppert said. “That helps determine if you have the right kids in the juvenile detention center, and you’re not benefiting the most you can from the system.”

Deppert said the hope is to get these children involved in programs enough so they’ll want to stay involved and stay out of the juvenile justice system.

After the detention focus, the local JDAI will address CHINS cases, which lead to about 30 percent of the delinquency cases ultimately coming before her court, Judge Moores said. About 10 CHINS cases are filed a day and, as of mid-April, about 100 more of these cases had been filed locally than in the same period last year, she said. The judge couldn’t explain the increase, but said the JDAI initiative can help find solutions to better address those types of cases.

“We want to institute the elements for continual change,” Judge Moores said. “Best practices have to always be evolving, otherwise we’ll be right back to where we started. We’re the early warning system for the entire criminal justice system. So if we don’t stay on the cutting edge, we’re all in trouble.”

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  1. Am I the only one who sees that the City is essentially giving away the MSA site AND giving millions to build new buildings on the site when this site would be the perfect place for the Justice Complex? Across from City-County, check; keeping it centrally located, check, etc. It's my understanding that the GM site must be purchased by the City from Motors Liquidation Company. STOP WASTING WHAT WE ALREADY HAVE AND OUR TAX DOLLARS! The Ballard Administration has not been known for it's common sense...never voted for him and never will!

  2. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  3. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  4. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  5. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

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