ILNews

Teens share stories about juvenile justice experience

Back to TopE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
Juvenile Justice

Chances are the two teenagers are strangers and haven’t met even though they share a common bond through Indiana’s juvenile justice system.

Robert Neely, 16, and Trevor Bridger, 17, both live in Elkhart County and have their own tales of how it took incarceration to teach them a lesson. Both have been locked up in juvenile detention centers and spent time at the same Department of Correction facility in South Bend, ordered by the same juvenile Magistrate Deborah Domine. They’ve been out since January and are now hoping to complete their probations this year so they can leave the juvenile justice system behind.

Elkhart County

This is the story of two young men who’ve gone through a local system the same as thousands of juveniles; they are just two of the 82 youth sent to state-run juvenile facilities from Elkhart County, last year’s figures show. Both say detention taught them a lesson they might not have learned any other way. While both speak positively of the actions their juvenile magistrate took in helping them reform their lives, their intersecting storyline splits when it comes to their experiences with counsel as they maneuvered through the county’s court system.

Their stories come at a time when Indiana ranks fourth in the nation for the number of youth being locked up, the state’s juvenile justice system is lagging in what many call meaningful statewide reforms, and children’s access to quality representation varies significantly from county to county and sometimes within the same juvenile court system.

Starting over

TrevorNeely grew up on the east side of Chicago. His dad is deceased and his mom still lives in Chicago. But Neely came to northern Indiana about three years ago to start over and live with his older sister, who’s now 26 and has held guardianship for him for about seven years. Aside from Robert, she also takes care of their younger 14-year-old sister, two 10-year-old siblings, and her son and baby.

Neely has a history in both Indiana and Illinois’ social services systems and first made court appearances in Chicago when he was 9 or 10. But his first Indiana court appearance came a few years ago before Magistrate Domine on a stolen property charge.

Neely has been locked up in county juvenile detention about 10 times, ranging from about two weeks to four months, for various things including possession of stolen property and probation violations that came from drug use and running from foster homes. He has also been placed in group and foster homes after his sister declared he wasn’t listening or following rules, and that he was at times too defiant for her to handle.

“I’ve never been out for a whole five months since I’ve been here,” he said. “I’ve spent half my life being locked up.”

Magistrate Domine gave him a few chances, but his defiant attitude combined with drinking and marijuana use put a damper on his progress and led to a seven-month stint at the South Bend Juvenile Correctional Facility last year. Neely would have been one of the 126 juveniles the state reported being in the facility at the end of December. He was there from June 2007 to January 2008.

But since his release, Neely’s court-ordered family therapist Stephanie McIntosh with the Indiana Juvenile Justice Task Force sees the teenager as a success story. She works with the Family Support Services that provides an intensive homebased intervention designed as an alternative to out-of-home placement, offering treatment for youth and their families in the least restrictive environment within the community. McIntosh met with him periodically when he was locked up last year and then has been meeting weekly, sometimes going out to eat.

“Even thought it’s tough, rough, and it’s hard, there’s a lot of progress going on here,” she said.

His last court appearance was in early February after his DOC release a couple weeks earlier. He’s looking forward to his next hearing June 4 because he hopes to be released from probation; Neely hopes the court sees how he’s been clean for a year, is doing well in school, and is working to change his ways.

Eventually, he’d like to enroll in a technical school to do some welding work or some skill such as advertising or design, Neely said.

“I’ve been through it all, so now I’m trying not to go back to it because I’ve come from it,” he said. “I came up here to start over, but didn’t. Now I’m starting from scratch and doing it myself. I’m seeing where life takes me.”

Getting 'it'

A couple miles away from the pizzeria where Neely shares his story, Bridger sits at the kitchen table with his mom and court-ordered family caseworker to talk about his experiences in the system.

The teenager first entered the system a couple years ago – a sex-related charge was dismissed and he was charged on a residential entry offense. A February 2006 arrest for shoplifting led to a felony theft charge, and he was put on probation for a year. But Bridger said he kept hanging out with the wrong crowd, smoking marijuana, and failing drug tests last year.

His first probation violation was a result of school tardiness, Bridger said. Part of his probation also involved not regularly attending school and being late; he’d have to spend a day in juvenile detention if he was late to class. He racked up about eight tardy violations so he spent a cumulative five days in detention, he said.

After his release, he returned a month later for violation of house arrest. Two days after that release, Bridger said he was arrested after failing a drug test and that put him back in detention for a month before being sent to the DOC. Diversion program options didn’t work out, and he was sent to a South Bend juvenile facility from June 12, 2007, to Jan. 14, 2008.

“I just didn’t take it seriously. It was all a joke,” he said. “All my friends had been locked up, and I said I’d never be locked up. Next thing you know, I’m sitting in JC three times and then to the DOC.”

Bridger was supposed to be released in September and was counting down the days. However 15 days before his expected release he stole some food because he was hungry; that violated a DOC rule and cost him three additional months of detention.

“I stole a cookie. One cookie. A moment of sugary pleasure ... cost me three more months,” he said.

His new December release date also was postponed a month, but Bridger said the additional time taught him the most.

“That helped me more understand the consequences and what can happen. It taught me patience and helped me become more mature,” he said.

Bridger earned an honors GED in the state facility, and he’s now taking part-time college courses at Ivy Tech Community College and plans to enroll full time in the fall. He hopes that he’ll be released from probation by the end of this month.

“It happened for a reason and I finally got ‘it,’” he said, noting that DOC taught him a lesson. “You have to really want it, and you have to get ‘it.’ People who don’t, they need to go (to DOC) and experience it.”

Legal experiences

The pair’s experiences with legal counsel varied, though.

Neely said he sees his courtroom and legal experience as a positive one. He described his public defender as nice, fair, and always willing to discuss what was happening with the teenager before they entered the courtroom.

“He was nice and tried his best to not just keep me out of jail but to do better,” Neely said about his public defender.

The two would meet at the detention center before court to talk about the case and make sure Neely understood what would be happening in court, the teenager said. It seemed the attorney had reviewed his case before meeting. The attorney always seemed to be preparing him for the outcome, flat out telling him if there was no chance Neely would be able to go home or avoid jail. Before leaving court, the public defender would always ask Neely if there was anything he wanted to ask or say to the judge.

Magistrate Domine “was cool” because she gave Neely several chances before sending him to the DOC, he said. She always emphasized that what was happening in the home was important and played into his case, he said.

“Everyone helped me understand, but I was at the point where I took everything for granted,” the teenager said. “I was just focused on getting out and not what could happen in the future that might put me back in jail.”

McIntosh feels fortunate to have worked in the Elkhart County courts because they’re reasonable and fair, and different from what she’s experienced in other jurisdictions where detention alternatives vary and similar options don’t exist. That’s what helped Neely, she said.

He hasn’t thought about what he might change if he could altar the legal system, but the teenager said nothing stands out because he feels he was treated fairly by everyone involved.

“I can’t say there’s things I wouldn’t do, but I don’t know what I would do,” he said. “If I had a wand, I’d show you and I wouldn’t have been there in the first place.”

In contrast, Bridger and his mom, Sharon, said they’d have much to change with the system.

At first, Bridger stayed in juvenile detention about a month longer than expected because his court date kept getting pushed back. It would be rescheduled for the following Thursday, but then he would learn just before then that it was again continued for the next week.

Bridger’s original public defender would inform him of the change, but that’s about all, Bridger and his mom said. The lawyer didn’t seem briefed on anything.

Sharon Bridger said her repeated phone calls to the public defender often went unreturned, and she wasn’t able to get answers about her son’s case.

His mom was searching for a local residential drug rehab to use rather than having her son sent to the DOC or a 30-day commitment program, but she said that wasn’t available and her insurance wouldn’t pay for that type of program.

“There needs to be more creative options available,” she said.

She turned to other parents of youth in the juvenile justice system, and she said at one point someone told her what to expect from the legal system.

“I’ve talked to a lot of parents ... many seemed to feel that it didn’t really matter if you had an attorney or not,” Sharon Bridger said. “The judge operated a certain way and nothing would change that.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Indiana State Bar Association

Indianapolis Bar Association

Evansville Bar Association

Allen County Bar Association

Indiana Lawyer on Facebook

facebook
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. I like the concept. Seems like a good idea and really inexpensive to manage.

  2. I don't agree that this is an extreme case. There are more of these people than you realize - people that are vindictive and/or with psychological issues have clogged the system with baseless suits that are costly to the defendant and to taxpayers. Restricting repeat offenders from further abusing the system is not akin to restricting their freedon, but to protecting their victims, and the court system, from allowing them unfettered access. From the Supreme Court opinion "he has burdened the opposing party and the courts of this state at every level with massive, confusing, disorganized, defective, repetitive, and often meritless filings."

  3. So, if you cry wolf one too many times courts may "restrict" your ability to pursue legal action? Also, why is document production equated with wealth? Anyone can "produce probably tens of thousands of pages of filings" if they have a public library card. I understand this is an extreme case, but our Supreme Court really got this one wrong.

  4. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

  5. JOE CLAYPOOL candidate for Superior Court in Harrison County - Indiana This candidate is misleading voters to think he is a Judge by putting Elect Judge Joe Claypool on his campaign literature. paragraphs 2 and 9 below clearly indicate this injustice to voting public to gain employment. What can we do? Indiana Code - Section 35-43-5-3: Deception (a) A person who: (1) being an officer, manager, or other person participating in the direction of a credit institution, knowingly or intentionally receives or permits the receipt of a deposit or other investment, knowing that the institution is insolvent; (2) knowingly or intentionally makes a false or misleading written statement with intent to obtain property, employment, or an educational opportunity; (3) misapplies entrusted property, property of a governmental entity, or property of a credit institution in a manner that the person knows is unlawful or that the person knows involves substantial risk of loss or detriment to either the owner of the property or to a person for whose benefit the property was entrusted; (4) knowingly or intentionally, in the regular course of business, either: (A) uses or possesses for use a false weight or measure or other device for falsely determining or recording the quality or quantity of any commodity; or (B) sells, offers, or displays for sale or delivers less than the represented quality or quantity of any commodity; (5) with intent to defraud another person furnishing electricity, gas, water, telecommunication, or any other utility service, avoids a lawful charge for that service by scheme or device or by tampering with facilities or equipment of the person furnishing the service; (6) with intent to defraud, misrepresents the identity of the person or another person or the identity or quality of property; (7) with intent to defraud an owner of a coin machine, deposits a slug in that machine; (8) with intent to enable the person or another person to deposit a slug in a coin machine, makes, possesses, or disposes of a slug; (9) disseminates to the public an advertisement that the person knows is false, misleading, or deceptive, with intent to promote the purchase or sale of property or the acceptance of employment;

ADVERTISEMENT