VALPARAISO | Fewer youngsters are staying at the Porter County Juvenile Detention Center thanks to new efforts outlined Tuesday by juvenile justice officials.
A workshop entitled Juvenile Justice Alternatives For Youth was presented by Alison Cox, director of the center; Chris Buyer, chief juvenile probation officer; and Anthony McDonald, coordinator of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, at the Family & Youth Services Bureau.
Cox said the new efforts have diverted more than 90 children this past year from secure detention. The department also has increased its community-based monitoring by more than 70 percent. This was accomplished by using screening and assessment tools to determine risks to the community that are performed on all juveniles coming through a new reception center, Cox said.
“Securely detaining a child can be traumatic,” she said. “Do they need to be incarcerated? It really should be used as a last resort. Only if they are a danger to themselves or the community.”
McDonald described the JDAI as a “public safety initiative” designed to decrease the number of youths inappropriately detained and improve the juvenile justice system, among other things.
The initiative began in Porter County in 2008 and has been implemented in 19 other Indiana counties and 39 states, as well as the District of Columbia.
McDonald said it includes objective screening tools, increased alternatives to detention, expedited case processing and improving conditions of confinement.
“We care what happens to our children,” he said. “We want to make sure they are in a clean, family-friendly environment where they can grow and thrive.”
Buyer said the juvenile probation department now has more options when it comes to dealing with nonviolent juvenile offenders. Juveniles are assessed to determine their risk level, and there are increased home detention checks, supervision, counseling and rewards for good behavior.
“We want to save detention for those kids who are really dangerous,” Buyer said.
Changes at the juvenile detention center include a new reception center, creation and enhancement of home detention levels, and the creation of a day/evening reporting center, Cox said.
About 80 percent of kids entering the juvenile justice system have some type of mental health issue, and the mental health diversion program enables kids to get treatment for those issues rather than be placed in detention, she said.
The department also has had success with its truancy diversion program. It works with children, families and schools to prevent truancy, which often is a precursor for delinquent acts, Cox said.