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New group aims to prevent many from enetering juvenile justice system

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Ten to 15 years ago, a school yard fight usually led to after-school detention or a couple of Saturdays spent in the classroom. But as zero tolerance policies have grown and as children are treated more and more as adults, the reaction to normal young peoples’ behavior has become harsher and, in many instances, is paving the way to prison.

 A number of federal and state agencies along with nonprofit organizations are working to help regain the youths’ footing after they stumble into trouble. Now, a new nonprofit has been formed with a focus on preventing children and teenagers from entering the juvenile justice system.

nonprofit03-15col.jpg Attorneys Deborah Agard, left, and JauNae Hanger serve as vice chair and chair of the Children’s Policy and Law Initiative board of directors.(IL Photo/ Dave Stafford)

The Children’s Policy and Law Initiative is bringing together lawyers, social workers and child advocates from around the state to work on changing the policies and laws that some feel are too punitive and criminalizing children. Leaders of the new group want to put a variety of stakeholders at the same table to do the research and determine the best practices and then push schools and the Indiana Legislature toward reform.

 JauNae Hanger, civil rights attorney in Indianapolis, is one of the founders of CPLI and is currently serving as chair of the board of directors. She explained the organization does not want to prevent all kids from going into the juvenile justice system because some deserve to be there. However, CPLI believes too many young people are entering the system and more are at risk of entering.

 “We’re not trying to change the world,” she said. “We’re realistic, but over time, you can make a big impact.”

 Members of CPLI worked for the better part of a year to get their new nonprofit in place and ready to introduce itself. The organization held a reception in mid-December which attracted an estimated 70 individuals, and Hanger has plans to contact and meet other groups to forge alliances and work on common goals.

 In addition, CPLI is also looking for funding sources to make itself sustainable and, eventually, to be able to hire administrative staff.

A pipeline to jail

One main entrance to the juvenile justice system is school. Suspensions and expulsions have replaced detention, and offenses on school grounds are often leading to arrests of children and incarceration. Minority and special needs students are impacted disproportionally by school discipline policies in Indiana and throughout the country.

 As an example of the punishment overreaching the infraction, Carole Craig, Greater Indianapolis NAACP education co-chair and CPLI board member, pointed to a recent incident involving four minority youths.

 During the summer, an Indianapolis high school was undergoing some renovation and the four teenagers wandered inside through an unlocked door and played basketball in the gym. School officials subsequently charged the four with trespassing and suspended one for the entire fall semester and the other three for nine weeks. Craig and her colleagues at the NAACP intervened and were able to get all the youngsters reinstated.

The belief that such harsh treatment creates a better climate in the schools is, in fact, a myth, Craig said. Having more than 30 years of tenure as a middle school science teacher and school principal, she maintains children, regardless of their ethnicity, socioeconomic standing and even their home life, are all capable of learning and meeting high expectations.

 Instead, schools are relying on suspensions and expulsions for mostly minor offenses which puts students either home alone or wandering the streets and disengages them from education. Multiple suspensions have been shown to increase the likelihood of contact with the juvenile justice system, creating the school-to-prison pipeline.

 “We have lost our perspective on this issue,” Hanger said. “We wouldn’t go around arresting adults for innocent acts. Why are we arresting our children?”

 The issue of the school-to-prison pipeline stepped into the national spotlight in December when the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights held the first-ever congressional hearing on the topic. No one from CPLI testified, but the organization is focusing on the pipeline problem because this is how many juveniles are entering the jails.

CPLI members emphasize many agencies, including the Indiana Department of Correction, and other nonprofits are working with teens and building programs to help the youngsters in the justice system get on the right path to being a productive adult. Yet, CPLI sees a gap in the effort in that no single statewide organization is focused on changing policy.

 “We’re not sitting here saying the system is broken,” said Indianapolis attorney and vice chair of the CPLI board Deborah Agard. “There are a lot of positive changes, but the momentum needs to pick up and make things happen sooner.”

 Policy changes difficult

The CPLI wants to be an independent voice that takes a step back to look at the entire picture then builds consensus and makes recommendations to the General Assembly for changes in laws and polices.

 “When we talk about reforming the juvenile justice system, we’ve got to be realistic,” Hanger said. “It’s going to take awhile. We can’t force reform on people. We’ve got to bring people along.”

 While innovative programs are being implemented in certain parts of the state, there are few comprehensive statewide policies and efforts to prevent the criminalization of children. This, in turn, creates a system of justice by geographical jurisdiction which can become at risk if the people committed to such changes are replaced or retire.

 A key to making statewide change is follow-through. CPLI emphasizes it must evaluate any laws passed to ensure they are yielding the intended results. And, as the history of House Enrolled Act 1193 illustrates, evaluation must be done to ensure the new laws are being implemented and keep all interested parties aware of any progress or setbacks.

This particular bill created a work group charged with making recommendations concerning law enforcement, school policing and youth.

 The Indiana State Bar Association had been heavily involved in HEA 1193 and many were elated when it passed and was signed into law. However, the group never met and, Hanger said, the law was repealed during the 2012 session.

 As required by the law, the Indiana Supreme Court made its appointments to the work group as did the Indiana attorney general and the Legislature, but the governor did not. Gov. Mitch Daniels never appointed the chair and so, the group never convened and no recommendations came forth.

 “Is the lesson we can’t do it in this state?” Hanger asked. “No, but I think the lesson is we have to be a little bit more organized.”•

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  1. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  2. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  3. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  4. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

  5. Brian W, I fear I have not been sufficiently entertaining to bring you back. Here is a real laugh track that just might do it. When one is grabbed by the scruff of his worldview and made to choose between his Confession and his profession ... it is a not a hard choice, given the Confession affects eternity. But then comes the hardship in this world. Imagine how often I hear taunts like yours ... "what, you could not even pass character and fitness after they let you sit and pass their bar exam ... dude, there must really be something wrong with you!" Even one of the Bishop's foremost courtiers said that, when explaining why the RCC refused to stand with me. You want entertaining? How about watching your personal economy crash while you have a wife and five kids to clothe and feed. And you can't because you cannot work, because those demanding you cast off your Confession to be allowed into "their" profession have all the control. And you know that they are wrong, dead wrong, and that even the professional code itself allows your Faithful stand, to wit: "A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law." YET YOU ARE A NONPERSON before the BLE, and will not be heard on your rights or their duties to the law -- you are under tyranny, not law. And so they win in this world, you lose, and you lose even your belief in the rule of law, and demoralization joins poverty, and very troubling thoughts impeaching self worth rush in to fill the void where your career once lived. Thoughts you did not think possible. You find yourself a failure ... in your profession, in your support of your family, in the mirror. And there is little to keep hope alive, because tyranny rules so firmly and none, not the church, not the NGO's, none truly give a damn. Not even a new court, who pay such lip service to justice and ancient role models. You want entertainment? Well if you are on the side of the courtiers running the system that has crushed me, as I suspect you are, then Orwell must be a real riot: "There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." I never thought they would win, I always thought that at the end of the day the rule of law would prevail. Yes, the rule of man's law. Instead power prevailed, so many rules broken by the system to break me. It took years, but, finally, the end that Dr Bowman predicted is upon me, the end that she advised the BLE to take to break me. Ironically, that is the one thing in her far left of center report that the BLE (after stamping, in red ink, on Jan 22) is uninterested in, as that the BLE and ADA office that used the federal statute as a sword now refuses to even dialogue on her dire prediction as to my fate. "C'est la vie" Entertaining enough for you, status quo defender?

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