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Indiana Juvenile Defense Project Could End Without State Funding

Teens sit through an orientation at Logansport Juvenile Detention Center.

At least five kids have been released from detention centers early because of the Juvenile Project's work. (Barbara Brosher, WFIU/WTIU News)

A program that helps kids get out of Indiana’s juvenile detention centers when they shouldn’t be there could end later this year if the state legislature doesn’t fund the project. 

Attorneys from Indiana’s Public Defender Council have done orientations with more than 1,000 kids in the state’s detention centers over the past two years as part of their Juvenile Defense Project.

The goal is to help educate juveniles about their legal rights. Attorneys also meet with kids one-on-one if they think there's an issue with their cases. In some cases, attorneys find the kids shouldn't be in a detention center. Sometimes it’s because they didn’t have an attorney at a crucial point in their case, or because the attorney assigned to their case wasn’t effective.

"Right now I know of three cases referred by the Juvenile Project directly that ended up at the Indiana Supreme Court," says Post Disposition Coordinator Joel Wieneke. 

Wieneke says that figure alone shows the impact the program is making. But, he says there's also a financial incentive for the state to keep it going. Data from the Indiana Department of Correction’s 2017 Annual report says it costs nearly $265 per day to house a juvenile in a detention center.

"We save the state hundreds of thousands of dollars in doing what’s right for these kids and getting them out," he says. 

And, visits to detention centers are just part of the Juvenile Project’s mission. It’s also worked to educate attorneys about the intricacies of the juvenile justice system.

But a federal grant that supports the project is set to run out in August. That means the Public Defender Council has to find another way to fund the effort. So, it's asking the state legislature to boost its annual budget slightly for the next two years. 

"It's less than $160,000 a year what we're asking for just to continue the work that we've been doing, the training, the technical assistance for attorneys and then also working with kids and making sure they're represented" says Juvenile Project Director Amy Karozos. 

Without that funding, the program will end later this year. Executive Director of the Indiana Public Defender Council Bernice Corley says that would leave a large gap in Indiana's justice system. 

"Without it there is no one to challenge the system, there is no one to determine whether the system is actually appointing counsel, making sure that kids are represented at all stages," she says. 

And Wieneke says the loss of the program would put the liberty of kids who are in Indiana's detention system at stake. 

"I know of at least five kids that we have gotten released early from the Department of Correction because their rights have been violated to the extent that even the courts or the prosecutors agreed that they should not have been sent to the DOC the way that it happened," he says. 

The Council hopes the state legislature will find room to fund the program as it tweaks the biennial budget bill in the coming weeks.

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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