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'Out of the court's hands'

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Juvenile Justice

Nearing her 20th birthday, a Lake County teenager believes that she's probably only alive because of help she got from Indiana's juvenile justice system.

Tiffany is a product of a state system that many say is lagging and falling short of meaningful reforms, but she's an example of how alternatives to juvenile detention can be beneficial to those going through the legal system and what can happen when those options are available.

Her story is ongoing in that she remains under juvenile court jurisdiction and is under the supervision of the same magistrate who's been with her since she entered the system at age 15. By staying in the juvenile system she's been able to graduate from high school, enroll in college classes, and work to piece her life together after almost five years in the criminal justice system, mostly as a juvenile.

Tiffany

Although she's an adult and no longer bound by juvenile confidentiality rules, Indiana Lawyer agreed to omit Tiffany's last name in this story at her request to accommodate her probation officer's wishes. But she agreed to talk publicly about details of her experience in the juvenile justice system, and those directly involved in her juvenile case describe her as a success story that can help paint a picture of juvenile detention alternatives that now could be in danger because of recent legislative reforms.

“She's an example of a kid where you could have made her very criminal," said Janet Peterson with the Indiana Juvenile Justice Task Force, who was initially assigned Tiffany's case through a court-ordered, home-monitoring program. “She could have gone through a DOC program, not received the same treatment and learned more sophisticated ways of supporting criminal habits. But the judge believed in her, went over and above, and he was right. I don't know if she'd still be alive otherwise."

Neither does Tiffany, who considers herself “very lucky" because she knows she could be either dead or facing the first part of her adult life in prison.

Her story starts when she first entered high school. She attended a Catholic school through eighth grade and admits now that she wasn't ready for the new world. Drugs and alcohol became a part of her life. She made the varsity swim team as a freshman, left the team by her junior year, and her grades plummeted as a result of her getting hooked on partying with marijuana and hard-core drugs like cocaine and ecstasy.

What followed was a handful of arrests on drug possession and minor in consumption charges – five while she was a juvenile that included parties and once for having drugs in the high school parking lot, Tiffany said. She's spent a total 60 days in juvenile detention off and on over the years, mostly weekend stints but once for 47 days after refusing to comply with a court-ordered psychological evaluation, she said.

The detention experience was one she'll always remember, from the bad food and regular fights to the detention officers she observed didn't seem to care about the kids at all.

But what has enabled her to overcome obstacles is that Tiffany was put in placement programs and given chances to clean up her act, the teenager and Peterson say now.

Numerous drug-test failures over the years kept her in the juvenile justice system, but she was constantly put in placement programs – counseling, inpatient and outpatient programs for suicide and anger issues, and mental health diversion programs – rather than being sent to a Department of Correction facility.

Court figures show about 20 to 30 percent of the juveniles have been placed in these secured detention alternative programs in recent years.

From the beginning, her courtroom experiences have involved Lake Juvenile Magistrate Jeffrey Miller, who Tiffany and Peterson credit for “thinking outside the box" and aiding the teenager in overcoming obstacles.

“To know that he cares and he's not just dishing out punishments, he's given me chances to succeed. He's given me way too many chances, and I've overdone my welcome with chances, but I'm glad he has," Tiffany said. “It's taken all this time to realize what I'm doing with my life and that I want to make something out of myself rather than just being in the system as a drug addict."

While she had an attorney in juvenile court, Tiffany doesn't recall ever meeting or talking with him. He just appeared in court and didn't seem to do anything, she said. But “Judge Miller" always seemed to analyze her case well and explained what was happening, helping her understand, she said.

Tiffany recalled putting on the front that she didn't care what happened and that she wasn't concerned what the court did.

“But deep down, I cared. When it comes right down to it, you're detained. No one wants that, even if you deserve it," she said.

A referral from the juvenile court brought Tiffany and Peterson together in May 2005, about two years after first entering the system and after an array of other court ordered counselors and caseworkers. Peterson had worked on substance abuse cases for about four years in Gary before joining the Indiana Juvenile Justice Task Force and handling the Family Support Services program – an intensive home-based intervention designed as an alternative to placement. Through the Indianapolis-based task force, about 10 counties have used the program that is funded through a fee-for-service agreement with those jurisdictions.

The initial months were tough with Tiffany trying to overcome defiance and anger issues, the two recalled. At the time, Peterson had about 10 or 12 other kids through the program. Tiffany and Peterson would meet about four times a week, mostly at home with the rest of the family but sometimes at McDonalds, a local park, or just to take a walk and talk, Peterson said.

“The joke was that I was in their home so often that they could claim me on their taxes," Peterson said. “It's not a sterile office setting, and that's the flexibility of the program."

Peterson hasn't been officially involved with Tiffany's case since March 2007; she is now a supervisor for the task force's Family Support Services program in that county. However, she keeps in contact with Tiffany, tries to attend every court hearing, and is listed as an emergency contact for the teenager. Peterson keeps in regular touch with the magistrate and probation officer on Tiffany's case, she said.

About a year ago, Magistrate Miller sent Tiffany away from Lake County to shield her from the same environment where she got into trouble. This independent living home is her second long-term placement.

She must get permission from her probation officer and case manager anytime she wants to go somewhere or make a call. Anyone who visits must first be approved, and they must be buzzed inside, and sign a visitor log at the front counter. Like every resident, Tiffany can get passes for work and, with good behavior, can get weekend passes to go out to eat with family. Her parents visit every few weeks, she said, and she's also enrolled herself in an intensive substance rehab program three days a week.

Currently, Tiffany is working her way up a five-level ladder that could lead to getting her own apartment, although she admits a failed drug test last summer and her subsequent running away dropped her to the ladder's lowest rung. Her adult case was reduced to a status offense, and she received community service but remains on unmonitored supervision until August.

Though she's encountered some obstacles and continues trying to overcome her own demons, Tiffany is proud that she's been able to earn her high school diploma after attending a local high school for two months last year, and get into college. She is completing her second semester with four classes and is also enrolled for the summer.

She's studying criminal justice.

“It's kind of ironic ... I want to be a narcotics police officer," Tiffany said. “I want to be on the good side of the law, eventually. I know I want to try and make things right and help someone before they get as far as I did."

Peterson looks to those accomplishments as the best measure of Tiffany's success, and of the court's ability to be lenient and offer alternatives to detention. But the General Assembly passed legislation earlier this year that the governor has signed to shift juvenile detention funding from counties to the state, and Peterson worries that the new law set to take effect next year could tie judges' hands on what alternative programs can be used. Part of the law gives the Indiana Department of Child Services oversight authority on what judges can authorize for placement as it relates to funding, sparking concern that programs like this one could be in trouble.

“That could be in danger, and it's sad because kids can make real change and progress," Peterson said.

In Tiffany's case, Peterson said each time the teenager came back to court – even as an adult – she'd progressed.

“That's why (Magistrate Miller) didn't give up on her. But she's one case out of so many. We have so many Tiffanys, kids who don't belong in juvenile detention."

Tiffany's next court appearance before Magistrate Miller is in May, and she already can hear him asking the question he has every time she goes before him: “Why are you in my courtroom again?"

This time will be different, she vowed.

“I think he'll be proud that I'm doing well in school, looking for a job, and that I've put myself in an intensive rehab program. I'm just going to tell him,‘I'm doing it for myself this time and not because you've ordered me to do it.' I hope he'll see a change, because there has been a change, and that he'll be proud of me."

She hopes to be released from probation later this year at some point, although she knows by law that she could be held until the day before her 22nd birthday.

In hindsight, Tiffany wonders if juvenile detention in a lockup would have accelerated her rehabilitation process or further ingrained that type of behavior into her life. She doesn't know.

“Now that I think back on it, I do like what he was doing and think it was for the better," Tiffany said.

She appreciates the magistrate's decision to send her to the place she's currently residing but doesn't think she needs to spend much more time there or under the court's guidance.

Tiffany knows the juvenile court retains control; she has recognized that symbolically it's up to her to decide what her fate will be. Her actions dictate the court's action so what happens is her responsibility.

“I feel I've grown up and am getting help on my own," she said. “I feel as though I'm ready to live life on my own and that it should be out of the court's hands now."

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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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