Indiana Expands Juvenile Alternative Sentencing Initiative

Howard, Clark and Elkhart counties recently joined an initiative aimed at developing sentencing alternatives for juveniles who have committed crimes.

courtroom

Photo: Library of Congress

The initiative is intended to help counties decide which children should be placed in detention and which ones would benefit more from daily check-ins and counseling programs outside of jail.

Three Indiana counties are joining a program to divert juveniles away from local juvenile detention centers. The initiative is based on research that says placing kids in detention may be harmful.

Criminal justice systems in Howard, Clark, and Elkhart Counties are the most recent to join the statewide Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, a program sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Indiana Supreme Court Justice Steven David serves on the state steering committee for the program. He says the initiative is intended to help counties decide which children should be placed in detention and which ones would benefit more from daily check-ins and counseling programs outside of jail.

“The risk is the longer they are detained, the longer they are away from home, the less likely, the harder it is to fix and address the issues,” David says. “If they are behind in school and they are detained, they’re going to get farther behind in school.”

Five other counties, including Marion and Johnson, currently participate in the program. Each decides locally what kinds of services to provide.

IUPUI criminal justice professor Crystal Garcia says the initiative comes from research that says placing juveniles in detention centers may be more detrimental than it is helpful.

“Keeping a kid in detention if we don’t need to causes huge trouble,” she says. “And we have 30 years of research that shows that it’s not a good place to put a kid. You don’t ever want to put a kid there if you don’t have to.”

David says it’s true that only eight Indiana counties currently participate in the program and that there are 22 juvenile detention centers in Indiana. He says the initiative has not received pushback from counties, but many have trouble finding the resources to implement new programs.

Julie Rawe

Julie is Assistant Producer of Noon Edition. In addition to reporting for WFIU, she also works as an intern for NPR's State of the Re:Union. She is a graduate of Indiana University where she studied French, anthropology, and African studies.

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