VALPARAISO | The city's Advisory Human Relations Council is exploring how to help reduce racial bias within the juvenile justice system.
Tony McDonald, a Porter County juvenile probation officer and coordinator of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, spoke to City Council members at their regular monthly meeting Tuesday at City Hall.
McDonald said Porter County is among eight counties in the state participating in the JDAI, which seeks to improve the juvenile justice system, including decreasing the number of youths in detention centers without compromising public safety.
“Detention centers should house the worst of the worst,” McDonald said. “They're not for kids who've just made a mistake.”
One of the goals of the initiative is to reduce the disproportionate number of minority youths who come into contact with the justice system and who serve time at detention centers, he said.
While many people associate racism with overt types of discrimination such as racial epithets, hate crimes and cross burnings, acts of modern racism can occur in ways that often leave no apparent evidence, according to JDAI.
JDAI studies show whites are more likely to support life-without-parole sentences in cases when black youths are involved and likelier to consider black youths as similar to adults in criminal culpability.
To reduce the unconscious biases that contribute to racial disparities in juvenile justice, Implicit Bias Training has been proposed in Indiana, McDonald said.
Pending funding, the training could start in September, and would be available to people in juvenile services, law enforcement, government, business, education, mental health fields and the faith-based community.
McDonald said since the JDAI began in Porter County three years ago, there have been positive outcomes and a decrease in the number of youths at the detention center.
Today, juveniles who are arrested are not just automatically sent to the center, but are objectively assessed to determine their degree of risk. The JDAI also seeks to speed up the time between arrest and case disposition, and to improve the conditions of confinement, McDonald said.
Other Indiana counties participating in the JDAI include Marion, Clark, Johnson, Elkhart, Howard, Tippecanoe and Lake.
With Lake and Porter counties both involved in the effort, the region can work to dispel some of the perceptions people have about it, McDonald believes.
“I think we can do some dynamic things,” he said. “We can make this region what we want it to be.”