No follow-through. That was a complaint voiced by attendees of last year’s summit to discuss juvenile justice matters in Indiana about many similar conferences they’d attended before: there was no follow-through.
But that wasn’t the case with the “Summit on Racial Disparities in the Juvenile Justice System: A Statewide Dialogue,” which the Indiana State Bar Association hosted in August 2009. The focus was on zero tolerance policies and disproportionate numbers of minorities in the juvenile justice system.
The summit – one of, if not the first of its kind in the nation – was a gathering of national experts and every type of stakeholder in the juvenile justice system in Indiana, including judges, lawyers, social workers, case workers, court appointed special advocates, educators, police officers, legislators, and parents.
Summit organizers, including Indianapolis civil rights attorney JauNae Hanger and ISBA legislative director Paje Felts, shared the resulting report with Indiana Lawyer that they and other summit participants had finished over the summer. It will be ready for distribution via the ISBA’s website by the end of September or early October.
The report includes 10 recommendations, as well as suggested actions, relevant projects that are already addressing the recommendations, possible partnerships, and resources for the stakeholders to get more information.
Those recommendations are:
• To have educators and stakeholders work together to make sure school policies are in place to help students to remain in school and ultimately graduate from high school.
• To decrease the number of arrests and referrals to the juvenile justice system in matters that the schools can handle internally, which would also keep the students in school and increase their chances of graduating.
• To improve training for law enforcement and school resource officers.
• To devise data-collection methods to measure disproportionality among all service providers that work with juveniles, including Child Protective Services, Department of Education, Division of Mental Health and Addiction, and the Department of Correction.
• To achieve cost savings in the juvenile justice system. In turn, those savings would go to educational and community programming for juveniles.
• To require the development and implementation of diversity trainings and plans for all juvenile justice agencies, providers, and professional associations.
• To develop strategies to address the needs and issues of “dual jurisdiction youth,” who are in the juvenile justice system and the child welfare system at the same time.
• For all juvenile courts to consider ways of reducing the likelihood of disproportionate minority contact through various court reforms.
• To increase access to legal counsel.
• To introduce legislation that would create a standing Commission on Children to maintain state standards for public policy regarding juveniles in Indiana.
To further discuss the report, a CLE – Kids, Books & Bars: A Look at Recommendations to Reduce Racial Disparities in the Juvenile Justice System – will take place Oct. 15 from 1:30 to 3 p.m. as part of the ISBA’s annual meeting. That CLE will include a panel of representatives from the five major youth initiatives currently taking place in Indiana: the Law Enforcement, School Police and Youth Workgroup; Department of Education’s Best Practices in Student Discipline; the board of Coordinating Services for Vulnerable Individuals; the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative of the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute; and the Indiana Mental Health Screening Assessment and Treatment Pilot Project. More information is in the event brochure for the ISBA annual meeting at www.inbar.org.
While the August 2009 summit, the resulting report, and the Oct. 15 CLE have a number of participants, Hanger said it was so that everyone would have a place at the table. The purpose was never to point fingers at any one agency or organization that works with juveniles but to give everyone a chance to address the issues, including what does or doesn’t work for them.
Lake Superior Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura in that court’s juvenile division has been actively involved with juvenile justice matters around the state. As the report’s editing phase came to a close, she said the interactions of so many different stakeholders was what she was most proud of regarding the report and summit.
Leslie Dunn, director of the Indiana Office of Guardian Ad Litem/Court Appointed Special Advocate, agreed that the strength of the report lies in the number and variety of stakeholders and that everyone has a part to play to improve services to juveniles.
“The report is a call to action to say, at every point in the process, in every agency, we have a role in addressing these issues,” she said, adding there needs to be fewer instances of “passing the buck” when it comes to who handles which specific issue a juvenile may have, even if there’s overlap, which she said is often the case.
She added that volunteers for the GAL/CASA programs she works with around the state will already consider all of the issues and services a child may need, and that very often more than one service is needed at a time.
“Every child has the same issues – education, supervision, love, all sorts of things – and we need to come together and say doesn’t matter if it’s DOE or law enforcement, what’s the best way to meet the needs of these kids. I don’t care if they come through the delinquency door, but if this kid is a CHINS because his parents are alcoholics and can’t afford food and he robbed a Village Pantry for food,” the CHINS issue also needs to be acknowledged, she said.
Both Judge Bonaventura and Dunn added the report would shed light on this issue.
“We should call all children who come through juvenile court ‘children in need of services’ because that’s what they all are,” Judge Bonaventura said.
She said a pilot program is in the works in at least two counties that would further examine the issue of how much crossover there is between CHINS and juvenile delinquency cases.
Among the issues that can be addressed immediately, Judge Bonaventura said schools could implement some of the suggested actions, such as a consideration of how the school handles discipline.
“Why is it when kids misbehave, the school gives them out-of-school suspension? For schools it’s better to handle discipline issues by keeping the students in school. … Not every truant is a criminal, but every criminal has been a truant,” she said. “So where do we begin to fix that? School is a perfect place; how a person does in school is a good indicator of whether a person will be successful in life or not.”
She also suggested the stakeholder organizations that need diversity training to consider local universities or agencies that hold these types of trainings for a low cost to the staff.
Rep. William A. Crawford, D-Indi-anapolis, who wrote the report’s introductory message with Indiana Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard, thanked the ISBA for taking on the matter and hosting the summit last year.
“All too often … we give up on children too early and jeopardize our future. … We need to give children a second chance. We need to be proactive to take the time to work with youth, instead of putting them on the track of leaving school to enter the prison pipeline. … We need educated, productive contributors to society as they become the future leaders,” he said.•