I'm interested in learning more about what they're doing because the Annie Casey Foundation is also working with courts in Dallas and Houston to reform their juvie systems, and Indiannapolis appears to be several steps further along in the process. Reported the Star:
Far fewer youths file into Marion County's juvenile lockup each day, a key result of a reform effort that has reduced crowding and diverted thousands of children into programs outside the center's walls.It makes a lot of sense that if such a mentality could take hold, it would happen first in the juvenile system. The Annie Casey Foundation (not to mention local officials) deserve a lot of credit for embracing this innovative and research-based model.
But architects of the overhaul of the juvenile justice system see the changes as only a starting point. In the third year of a program fueled by a national advocacy group, officials are aiming at ending racial disparities in punishment and transforming a system that many see as perpetuating delinquency rather than healing it.
Changes have come quickly. The county's juvenile court judge and magistrates reject more delinquency cases submitted by prosecutors or schools. Some get resolved short of court by involving offenders' families in the case.
And a reception center screens youths more stringently, sending more lower-risk offenders home before trial instead of locking them up.
That might sound like a way to promote crime rather than stop it. But juvenile court Judge Marilyn Moores says data collected through the project have helped earn police support for the approach.
"Kids who are low-level offenders need to be out in the community and stay connected with the community, because it positively affects them," she said.
In detention, "the low-level offenders become high-level offenders."
Local juvie justice officials in Texas will want to watch these pilot programs closely. Especially with Senator John Whitmire and others at the Legislature proposing a radical downsizing of the Texas Youth Commission - a move that would shift responsibility for most serious juvenile offenders to the counties - it's timely that the foundation and Texas' two largest counties have teamed up to pioneer new alternatives. Here's a little more about how the Annie Casey sponsored program is playing out in the ground in Indianapolis:
It'll be interesting to see what version of this model folks in Dallas and Houston come up with; if those two counties could achieve those kind of results, it might indeed reduce inmate populations enough to reasonably speak of downsizing TYC.
The Casey Foundation's aim is to tailor decisions to each child's circumstances, sending a child to detention as a last resort. Advocates say the Casey reforms drive down detention costs, make lockups safer and reduce repeat offenses, improving public safety.
In Indianapolis, early data show stark changes taking hold without a surge in juvenile crime.
In 2004, the detention center held 171 detainees on an average day, far more than the 144 beds could accommodate. Earlier this year, the same measure was below 100. Officials have closed units to reduce capacity to 112.
Detention admissions have fallen by more than half, to 2,214 last year.
A committee of court officials, experts and community leaders developed a way to screen kids who most need to be in custody. The goal is to allow detention only when an offender likely won't show up for court or is a danger to the community. Alternatives include electronic monitoring, home detention and a curfew.
The project has drawn in prosecutors, public defenders and other players in the system, spurring more changes.
Some problems now are resolved short of a criminal case. Minor misdemeanor case filings have decreased, and probation violation filings are down nearly 40 percent over two years. In the past year, the probation department offered informal administrative punishments to more than 600 violators, keeping them from being thrust back into court.