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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. Call it unauthorized law if you must, a regulatory wrong, but it was fraud and theft well beyond that, a seeming crime! "In three specific cases, the hearing officer found that Westerfield did little to no work for her clients but only issued a partial refund or no refund at all." That is theft by deception, folks. "In its decision to suspend Westerfield, the Supreme Court noted that she already had a long disciplinary history dating back to 1996 and had previously been suspended in 2004 and indefinitely suspended in 2005. She was reinstated in 2009 after finally giving the commission a response to the grievance for which she was suspended in 2004." WOW -- was the Indiana Supreme Court complicit in her fraud? Talk about being on notice of a real bad actor .... "Further, the justices noted that during her testimony, Westerfield was “disingenuous and evasive” about her relationship with Tope and attempted to distance herself from him. They also wrote that other aggravating factors existed in Westerfield’s case, such as her lack of remorse." WOW, and yet she only got 18 months on the bench, and if she shows up and cries for them in a year and a half, and pays money to JLAP for group therapy ... back in to ride roughshod over hapless clients (or are they "marks") once again! Aint Hoosier lawyering a great money making adventure!!! Just live for the bucks, even if filthy lucre, and come out a-ok. ME on the other hand??? Lifetime banishment for blowing the whistle on unconstitutional governance. Yes, had I ripped off clients or had ANY disciplinary history for doing that I would have fared better, most likely, as that it would have revealed me motivated by Mammon and not Faith. Check it out if you doubt my reading of this, compare and contrast the above 18 months with my lifetime banishment from court, see appendix for Bar Examiners report which the ISC adopted without substantive review: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS

  2. Wow, over a quarter million dollars? That is a a lot of commissary money! Over what time frame? Years I would guess. Anyone ever try to blow the whistle? Probably not, since most Hoosiers who take notice of such things realize that Hoosier whistleblowers are almost always pilloried. If someone did blow the whistle, they were likely fired. The persecution of whistleblowers is a sure sign of far too much government corruption. Details of my own personal experience at the top of Hoosier governance available upon request ... maybe a "fake news" media outlet will have the courage to tell the stories of Hoosier whistleblowers that the "real" Hoosier media (cough) will not deign to touch. (They are part of the problem.)

  3. So if I am reading it right, only if and when African American college students agree to receive checks labeling them as "Negroes" do they receive aid from the UNCF or the Quaker's Educational Fund? In other words, to borrow from the Indiana Appellate Court, "the [nonprofit] supposed to be [their] advocate, refers to [students] in a racially offensive manner. While there is no evidence that [the nonprofits] intended harm to [African American students], the harm was nonetheless inflicted. [Black students are] presented to [academia and future employers] in a racially offensive manner. For these reasons, [such] performance [is] deficient and also prejudice[ial]." Maybe even DEPLORABLE???

  4. I'm the poor soul who spent over 10 years in prison with many many other prisoners trying to kill me for being charged with a sex offense THAT I DID NOT COMMIT i was in jail for a battery charge for helping a friend leave a boyfriend who beat her I've been saying for over 28 years that i did not and would never hurt a child like that mine or anybody's child but NOBODY wants to believe that i might not be guilty of this horrible crime or think that when i say that ALL the paperwork concerning my conviction has strangely DISAPPEARED or even when the long beach judge re-sentenced me over 14 months on a already filed plea bargain out of another districts court then had it filed under a fake name so i could not find while trying to fight my conviction on appeal in a nut shell people are ALWAYS quick to believe the worst about some one well I DID NOT HURT ANY CHILD EVER IN MY LIFE AND HAVE SAID THIS FOR ALMOST 30 YEARS please if anybody can me get some kind of justice it would be greatly appreciated respectfully written wrongly accused Brian Valenti

  5. A high ranking Indiana supreme Court operative caught red handed leading a group using the uber offensive N word! She must denounce or be denounced! (Or not since she is an insider ... rules do not apply to them). Evidence here: http://m.indianacompanies.us/friends-educational-fund-for-negroes.364110.company.v2#top_info

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