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Lake County Juvenile Court Building

Lake County Juvenile Court Building

John J. Watkins, The Times

CROWN POINT — The child poverty and delinquency rates fell in the past three years in Lake and Porter counties, but remained mostly unchanged in LaPorte County, according to recent data from the Indiana Youth Institute.

The poverty rate dropped, in part, because of a lower statewide unemployment rate. The juvenile delinquency rate decrease appears largely to be the result of more counties participating in an initiative that promotes rehabilitation over incarceration for young offenders.

Twenty-eight percent of children in Lake County lived in poverty in 2013, according to the institute's Kids Count data report, released last week, but the number decreased to 26 percent in 2016.

The most significant drop was reported in Porter County, where 15 percent of children lived in poverty in 2013. The percentage of children there decreased to 10 percent in 2016.

In LaPorte, the change was less substantial — from 26.9 percent of children in 2013 to 26.7 percent in 2016.

The Indiana Youth Institute's annual Kids Count report provides data used to measure the health, safety, economics and education of the state's children.

Tami Silverman, the institute's CEO, said the report, which is in its 24th year of publication, compiles statistics on child welfare from a range of state governmental agencies.

The decline in child poverty corresponded with a drop in the unemployment rate across the state, including Northwest Indiana.

The state's annual average unemployment rate in 2013 was 7.7 percent compared to 4.4 percent in 2016. The state unemployment rate was 3.9 percent in October 2017.

In Lake County, the rate decreased from 9.2 percent to 6.3 percent. In LaPorte County, it decreased from 9.4 percent to 5.9 percent, and in Porter County, from 7.2 percent to 5.1 percent. 

Silverman said the unemployment rate was a big factor in child poverty, though she noted lack of transportation and affordable health care were barriers that can keep families impoverished, even as the unemployment rate falls.

One of the most substantial trends noted in the report was the statewide reduction in juvenile delinquency. A juvenile delinquency offense involves a child who violated state or federal law, or a municipal ordinance.

The number of juvenile delinquency cases decreased 50 percent statewide between 2006 and 2016, from 27,835 cases to 13,804 cases.

Between 2013 and 2016, the number of cases in Lake County decreased 47 percent, from 1,500 cases to 800 cases. Porter County reported a 27 percent decrease in that same period, from 559 cases to 404 cases. There was no substantial change in LaPorte County — 270 cases in 2013 and 272 cases in 2016.

Indiana Supreme Court Justice Steven H. David attributed the decrease in juvenile delinquency cases to the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, or JDAI, which Indiana joined in 2006. 

The JDAI is a nationwide initiative to promote rehabilitation over incarceration for juvenile offenders. Marion was the first county to join the initiative in 2006. In 2009, Lake and Porter counties joined. LaPorte County joined in 2014.

David, a former juvenile court judge, said the number of juvenile delinquency cases nationwide has fallen in recent years, but states that have implemented JDAI have seen a greater reduction.

He called JDAI the greatest juvenile justice reform implemented in Indiana in 20 years.

“That is how successful it is,” he said.

He said before JDAI was implemented, juvenile court judges had only two options when it came to delinquent children — detain the child or release the child to his or her parents.

Through JDAI, judges now have a range of alternative placement options and rehabilitation programs designed to help children without incarceration, except when necessary, according to David.

David said the initiative has reduced recidivism and detention costs, without harming public safety. It also has promoted partnerships between child welfare organizations, the judicial system and state departments.

The judge said he believed in a few years, JDIA won't even be discussed — it will simply be how the juvenile court system operates.

“It's just an amazing partnership,” he said.


Courts and social justice reporter

Steve covers Lake County courts and social justice issues for The Times. The UW-Milwaukee graduate joined The Times in 2016 after reporting on criminal justice in New Mexico and Wisconsin.