What's next for Indiana's juvenile system?

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Juvenile Justice

Indiana's legal community and child advocates say the state's juvenile justice system remains behind where it should be, but local efforts offer hope the system is heading in the right direction. However, getting around the current and all-too-familiar past state of affairs remains the largest obstacle.

You get some states"We're pretty much where we were," said Indianapolis attorney Terry Hall with Baker & Daniels, a court-appointed special advocate volunteer who also serves on the board of Kids' Voice of Indiana and an Indiana State Bar Association committee devoted to children's rights. "These juvenile justice issues ought to be on the front burner and are extremely important, but everyone's attention is often focused on problems that seem simpler to solve."

Evidence of the Indiana system's flaws came to light forcefully in April 2006, when a study commissioned by the Indiana Juvenile Justice Task Force revealed the shocking depth of flaws in Indiana's juvenile justice system and how many kids don't have adequate access to counsel - half of youth routinely waived counsel and the rate was as high as 80 percent in some parts of the state.

Those on the front lines of the juvenile justice system say much still depends on the jurisdiction and whether money and resources exist to best help a child, in everything from public defense and representation to detention alternatives and incaration. They note that many successes exist, but those examples often get overlooked at the statewide level and consistency doesn't exist.

Still, the foundation is there and the legal community is as devoted as ever to build on those efforts already in place. As the state moves forward and looks at what other jurisdictions have done and are doing to reform their systems, Indiana is pushing to connect its scattered dots of local success even as it grapples with changes expected to alter key parts of the juvenile justice system in the coming year.

"Indiana has a long way to go in holistic training in juvenile training and ensuring performance standards of representation, to provide more uniform standards on the quality of representation kids can get," said Kim Brooks Tandy, a lawyer who serves as director of the Children's Law Center and was principal author of the 2006 assessment."First, a structure needs to be in place to create a will for change. These issues we've raised require a legislative response, but also a judicial and public defender response and help from bar associations. Someone has to move the train."

Connecting the dots

Judges, attorneys, and advocates at the local level are cautiously optimistic about where the state's juvenile system is heading, but all agree that the individual successes can be mirrored in other areas to help the entire system. They credit the Indiana Supreme Court in nurturing and encouraging innovation, as well as state and national groups that offer grants to pay for those programs.

For example, Marion County is being viewed as a model site for innovation with the creation of an initial hearing court. Juvenile Judge Marilyn Moores and her staff are working with the Annie E. Casey Foundation and a federal grant to find alternatives to detention and work to hit at the roots of juvenile crime.

Meanwhile, other counties are putting their own programs in place to help hit at the root of juvenile justice issues.

"You get some states that are controlling, but Indiana is like an incubator for juvenile justice innovations," Porter Juvenile Judge Mary Harper said. "It's fun, you get to be like an inventor."

Judge Harper is recognized statewide as one of those innovators, and her county's juvenile system has benefited from it. The judge, while proud that her county has as many juvenile public defenders as it does deputy prosecutors handling those types of cases, is most excited about the mental-health diversion program that the county helped establish and is now being used in various counties statewide.

Porter County's program started in 2005 and works to identify, treat, and track youth with mental illness and try to work them around the juvenile justice court system. It was modeled after a successful program in Pennsylvania that she'd first heard about at a summit the year before. She coordinated the project with the Indiana State Bar Association's Civil Rights of Children Committee, which remains involved and has helped establish this as a statewide model.

Federally funded with a grant through the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, six counties are part of the project - Bartholomew, Clark, Johnson, Lake, Marion, and Porter counties; routine screening began for those counties' youth Jan. 1, 2008. The hope is to expand to five more counties by year's end.

HarperJudge Harper sees this and other diversion programs the county offers as a way to help reform the system. She noted that it took seven years in Pennsylvania for 21 of that state's 23 detention centers to implement mental-health screening, so the progress so far can only be seen as a success.

"You can adjudicate a case, but you need to get relatively close to right and almost exactly identify the needs of the child," Judge Harper said. "There's more involved than litigating a case. At a minimum, if you can't keep a child from getting involved in the juvenile justice system and can't divert them successfully, you're a lot closer to a disposition by virtue of what's already done in that diversion program."

KarozosWhile not an exact result of the 2006 report, the mental-health diversion program is directly tied to the same issues and ultimately fit into what juvenile judges and the ISBA committee are working to improve.

"Everything ties together when it comes to juvenile justice," said Amy Karozos, a staff attorney with the Youth Law T.E.A.M. of Indiana and former state public defender who currently chairs the ISBA Civil Rights of Children Committee. "They may not understand implications of what they're doing, but there's a big picture we're all somehow working toward and will eventually be able to see."

Aside from working on the juvenile mental-health screening project, the ISBA committee is also studying the access to counsel report and other initiatives statewide and hopes to connect the dots of these local efforts, Karozos said. It is also monitoring work and issues being considered by the Indiana Supreme Court's Juvenile Justice Improvement Committee, she said.

The committee is studying those issues and plans to make recommendations to county bar associations about better addressing those points, she said.

"We want to keep this issue of juvenile justice on everyone's mind," Karozos said. "There's no timeline. It's a continuing thing, seeing where opportunities for change are and trying to assist that change."

At a glanceReforming the system

Indiana isn't alone, according to those at the national level, and some describe the entire public defense system for juveniles as shamefully inadequate. Jurisdictions are struggling with similar issues nationally, but Indiana can be viewed as further along than some because at least it has pieces of a funding system in place.

Statewide, juvenile judges are pressured by the increasing caseloads that mostly remain unexplained - such as the 30 percent increase in CHINS cases seen in Marion County the first four months of this year. The state saw about a 19 percent increase in new juvenile filings from 1997 to 2007 and the steady increases are mirrored at the local level, though funding typically decreases and the local excitement about innovative improvements can be limited by reality.

To make necessary reforms, a state needs to have the legislative, political, and financial support in place, according to Tandy. Indiana hasn't yet reached that point.

Last year, the General Assembly failed to pass legislation that would have changed juveniles' access to counsel and also prevented juveniles from making statements during mental-health screenings, assessments, and treatment as evidence in a delinquency hearing or adult-court hearing.

Those advocating change hope Indiana adopts methods used in other jurisdictions across the country, such as mandating juvenile representation or creating statewide offices to oversee juvenile public defense and reform.

Tandy and others are encouraged by findings in a local government-reform report released in December that included a push for a state-funded public defender system. While many of the recommendations weren't included in the current property-tax legislation, juvenile justice advocates are encouraged that the issue has at least been raised in the report entitled "Streamlining Local Government," which included the support of Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard, a co-author with former Gov. Joe Kernan.

That could lead to change in coming years, the chief justice and juvenile justice advocates say.

"We're getting better, but there's always room for improvement," Vanderburgh Juvenile Judge Brett Niemeier said.

Sooner, not later

But the philosophical talk of reform and exchange of ideas is now weighed down by coming changes from recently adopted legislation, which was part of a property-tax law passed by lawmakers and signed by the governor in March.

Effectively, House Enrolled Act 1001 shifts juvenile detention costs from the counties to the state and gives the Indiana Department of Child Services more oversight authority of juvenile delinquency, status, and child welfare cases. An expedited "rocket docket" appeals process is being established for the Indiana Court of Appeals, which will allow the DCS and trial courts to get a quick review of any decisions made if they don't agree. Most juvenile justice-related changes take effect in January 2009.

Juvenile judges, attorneys, and advocates are concerned about what the new law will mean for children in the system, while the law's proponents emphasize how this will expand Indiana's ability to collect federal reimbursements for a $440 million system and make the process more efficiently centralized through the state agency.

DCS Director James Payne, who presided over Marion Superior's Juvenile Court for about 20 years before Gov. Mitch Daniels appointed him to lead the agency in 2005, said the legal community has little to worry about.

"This isn't going to be as fearful as they're talking about," he said. "The fact is, courts can still do what the courts want to do under any interpretation. I don't think it ties (judges') hands, it just adds a review and evaluation component."

PaynePayne emphasized that this legislation wasn't quickly thrown together; it was discussed extensively with judges, attorneys, probation, and service providers. He said the new law will present a more coordinated system for looking at what's best for families and children, and courts will have final say in all but the estimated less than 15 percent on which the DCS and courts don't agree.

When asked about the agency's ability to handle the additional responsibility, the judge said: "Only time will tell."

But jurists have expressed concerns, questioning whether the state agency has the ability to handle this expanded role and whether funding for local programs that have been successful - such as diversion options - will remain available.

For instance, in Vanderburgh County, Juvenile Judge Niemeier said at least one of his programs could be in danger. He runs a school-release facility that's similar to an adult work-release program, offering about 12 beds for non-secured youth allowing them to travel back and forth to school or outpatient-treatment programs, the judge said. But it's not eligible for federal grants - a key component of H.E.A. 1001.

"We're wondering and speculating if it can continue," he said. "It's not enormous, but it keeps them local and provides for that need we have here."

Judge Niemeier also wonders about being able to continue using two case managers from a local counseling center, currently paid for by the DOC. They have about 10 kids each and that funding may go away, though the judge is prepared because the county recently hired a therapist for the court to rely on and that can accommodate the needs.

More significantly, the judge wonders what impact the state detention funding will have because DOC placement currently is being offered free to counties, but there will be tighter controls on options for treatment and detention alternatives.

"Judges may be more apt to send kids to the DOC to save money," he said. "I hope that's not the case, as this could result in shorter stays and I don't think that's in the best interest of kids or safety of communities."

Indiana now ranks fourth in the number of juveniles being sent to state facilities, according to a national report, "Geography Matters: Child well-being in the states," issued in April by the national child advocate group Every Child Matters Education Fund.

Allen Superior Judge Charles F. Pratt, who chairs the Juvenile Justice Improvement Committee, said this new law won't be much different than current practice as long as judges properly understand what's happening, and the committee must work to educate the bench and bar.

"This is a departure from practices we've had in the past, and so there's concerns that this would limit courts' discretion," Judge Pratt said. "But a close reading and knowing the underlying intent shows that there's enormous opportunity to create a partnership between juvenile courts and the DCS in a systematic way. There's been a barrier between these two systems, and if embraced properly this can create an opportunity to work together more efficiently for the benefit of children."

While much remains uncertain, those attorneys on the front lines point out that Indiana entities must work together on these new changes and always work toward meaningful reform, not just putting new laws on the books.

"What kind of reform do you want?" Karozos asked. "That's what everyone needs to be asking."

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  1. 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.

  2. 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;

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  5. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: