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Teaming up for change

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Juvenile Justice

A unique conference addressing improvements to juvenile justice systems in various communities nationwide drew experts to Indianapolis recently to share information.

The daylong “Summit on Racial Disparities in the Juvenile Justice System: A Statewide Dialogue,” organized by the Indiana State Bar Association, Indiana Supreme Court Administration, and the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, took place Aug. 27. The conference was a followup to a study by the Commission on Disproportionality in Youth Services, which was established by the Indiana General Assembly in 2007.

That study showed that in Indiana there is evidence of disproportionate minority confinement, or DMC, but the conference wasn’t just about the numbers - it was also about improving the circumstances behind the statistics. One of the conference’s main goals was to bring all stakeholders to the table to listen to what has worked for other communities and to discuss the issues that might discourage DMC when arresting, charging, and sentencing youth.

Local and national lawyers

The event did just that; politicians, lawyers, judges, social workers, educators, law enforcement officers, and even parents were in the audience to hear experts in the field share stories and suggestions about how similar programs can be implemented in Indiana.

In his opening remarks, ISBA president R. William Jonas Jr. said the state bar was proud to move forward on the issue as he emphasized the focus should be on each individual child in the system and what is best for them.

“This is a little bit of a touchy subject,” he said to a room full of nodding heads and muffled agreement. “It can be difficult to talk about. The speakers may challenge your ideas. From the ISBA’s perspective, we want those challenges. We want concrete steps to bring us to solutions.”

The working chairs were Marion Superior Judge Tanya Walton Pratt and Lake Circuit Judge Lorenzo Arredondo. The honorary chairs were Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard and Rep. William Crawford, D-Indianapolis.

Chief Justice Shepard thanked those who were participating because, he said, he knew they were there and doing the work they do not because they had to, but because they wanted to help those in the juvenile justice system.

Clayton“People show up again and show up again because it matters to them,” he said.

He added while the state has never been color blind, that hasn’t prevented Hoosiers from making progressive changes.

Speaker Michael Patchner, dean of the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis School of Social Work, thanked the legislature for enacting laws that were a direct result of the commission’s recommendations. He said when he first started working with the commission, he noticed the automatic doors were there for people with disabilities, yet they were also helpful to everyone, including him. That experience, he said, made him realize that regulations that were meant to help one part of the community were also beneficial to the rest of the community, much like the programs discussed during the summit.

Role models

Among the speakers who highlighted successful programs were a judge in Georgia; an advocate who worked with police for the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority in Boston; the Madison, Wis., chief of police; a district attorney for the juvenile unit in Portland, Ore.; a prominent civil rights attorney based in Washington, D.C.; the founder of the Juvenile Justice Initiative in Illinois; and the founder of a national organization based in San Francisco.

Judge Steven Teske of Clayton County, Ga., said he had met with several juvenile court judges in Indiana to look over the code and see what could be changed.

For the program in his county, Judge Teske said it was a matter of determining which types of offenses were being punished and how that was taking away from the officers’ real reason for being in the school: as a deterrent to unsafe behavior and drugs. Looking at the numbers, 90 percent of arrests were misdemeanors. Of those, most were for disrupting school, fights, and disorderly conduct. He said these were the kinds of things most high school students would do, only it would be more appropriate for them to be sent to the principal’s office and not to a police officer.

ShepardAfter working with teachers and officers to overhaul the system, Judge Teske’s caseload dropped from 165 to 30. Those 30, he said, are the ones who truly needed to be in the system.

School resource officers could then spend more time at schools where they could oversee those who needed to be supervised. Recidivism was reduced, and the community became a safer place as more crimes outside of the schools were being solved with help from students.

In one case, a school resource officer’s conversation with a student using profanity led to a drug dealer’s arrest, explained Sgt. Mark Richards, who oversees the school resource officers in Clayton County. Other crimes such as homicides and armed robberies have been solved with the help of students.

There were many challenges in the collaborative process, he said, suggesting those who want to consider their own systems start by talking to stakeholders individually and to have a neutral mediator facilitate conversations.

Lisa Thurau of Strategies for Youth in Cambridge, Mass., had a similar experience. When she learned many minority students were being arrested on Boston’s public transit, she discovered all the students were being arrested at the same stop by the same handful of officers when school was released. After a struggle with the transit authority, including press involvement, she eventually got them to the table.

ArredondoSince 2004, the StopWatch Program she helped create has dramatically decreased arrests of students.

She has also worked to educate youths and their parents about how to interact with police, has worked with police departments in Cambridge and Everett, Mass., and is currently training police in Nantucket on how to interact with youth.

Optimistic for change

While it’s a daunting task to make the kinds of sweeping changes participants learned about through other national examples, this summit was meant to show the stakeholders in Indiana that it’s not impossible if others could do it, like lunch keynote speaker James Bell, founder of the W. Haywood Burns Institute in San Francisco, which considers DMC issues.

“You must know and believe in the depths of your soul that this is a solvable problem,” he said.

To do this, he suggested participants focus on specific goals by eliminating abstractions, reach a consensus regarding the purpose of detention, and build a collaborative model for all involved.

ThurauTo do that in Indiana, at the end of the summit an 18-member panel discussed what comes next to make sure these issues are addressed and remain a priority.

A summit report will be released in December, and after that a working group will continue for six to nine months, a way that planning committee member Dr. Daniel Lowry said will ensure “this isn’t the end of the story, but the beginning.”

For more information about the summit, including the Indiana Commission on Disproportionality in Youth Services 2008 Final Report, visit the ISBA’s Web site, www.inbar.org

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  1. in a lawyer discipline case Judge Brown, now removed, was presiding over a hearing about a lawyer accused of the supposedly heinous ethical violation of saying the words "Illegal immigrant." (IN re Barker) http://www.in.gov/judiciary/files/order-discipline-2013-55S00-1008-DI-429.pdf .... I wonder if when we compare the egregious violations of due process by Judge Brown, to her chiding of another lawyer for politically incorrectness, if there are any conclusions to be drawn about what kind of person, what kind of judge, what kind of apparatchik, is busy implementing the agenda of political correctness and making off-limits legit advocacy about an adverse party in a suit whose illegal alien status is relevant? I am just asking the question, the reader can make own conclsuion. Oh wait-- did I use the wrong adjective-- let me rephrase that, um undocumented alien?

  2. of course the bigger questions of whether or not the people want to pay for ANY bussing is off limits, due to the Supreme Court protecting the people from DEMOCRACY. Several decades hence from desegregation and bussing plans and we STILL need to be taking all this taxpayer money to combat mostly-imagined "discrimination" in the most obviously failed social program of the postwar period.

  3. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

  4. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

  5. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

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