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. 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.