EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD: Porter County involved in serving children better

2013-11-10T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD: Porter County involved in serving children betterBy Mary Harper nwitimes.com
November 10, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The Indiana Division of State Court Administration recently published a special edition of The Indiana Court Times magazine. This issue is dedicated to addressing how the courts serve children in our state.

Porter County has been a participant from the very first phase in two of the highlighted initiatives. We were an original participant in the pilot stages of the now well established Juvenile Mental Health Screening, Assessment and Treatment Project.

The Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative is also highlighted in The Court Times. Porter County was one of the original three counties to implement JDAI. JDAI is designed to move low to medium risk offenders, at the pre-trial stage, from secure detention into community-based alternative programs. Nationally, it has established outstanding public safety outcomes.

My interest in the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative for Porter County was based upon the desire to enhance public safety and produce better outcomes for youth and their families. I also did not want to have the county build an addition to the juvenile detention center to house what was a growing number of youths being detained after arrest.

JDAI uses eight strategies which involve system-wide analysis of philosophy, practice and policy relating to juvenile justice. Input from many local stakeholders has been critical to our efforts.

Instead of the age-old practice of the juvenile court judge unilaterally dictating policy, our JDAI participation has engaged many community partners, such as Porter Starke Services, Family and Youth Services Bureau, Valparaiso University, Porter County PACT, multiple law enforcement agencies, several school administrators, The Boys & Girls Club, the prosecutor’s office, the public defender’s office, DCS, parent advocates and many juvenile probation and juvenile detentions officers.

Work groups comprised of our community partners have assisted the juvenile court with the development of a risk assessment instrument, which applies a uniform set of factors to each child to determine if they will be held in detention or released under supervision.

Work groups continue in the areas of disproportionate minority contact, data collection, conditions of confinement, and alternatives to detention.

This latter group, alternatives to detention, has designed, and we have implemented, several options for dealing with the youth, including a new house arrest program for children.

Holding a child in detention costs $155 per day. The average stay in 2013 has been 10.85 days, so the average cost per child in juvenile detention is $1,681.75.

However, a child whose score on the risk assessment instrument allows house arrest presents a very different fiscal impact.

Through the first six months of 2013, the juvenile probation and juvenile detention staff performed 2,683 house arrest visits. Average daily population of house arrest was 40.86 children, at 29.4 days per child.

Each child has received, on average, 13.48 home visits from house arrest staff. This highly intensive supervision has cost an average ov $111.48 per participant.

Even more important than the fact house arrest allows for longer supervision of the children, at less than 10 percent of the cost of incarcerating them, is the information my staff has recently provided. This alternative to detention, developed with the help of our community partners, has resulted in cutting the recidivism rate from 53 percent to 27 percent for children on house arrest level two, which 90 percent of the children are on.

Mary Harper is Porter Circuit Court judge. The opinions are the writer's.

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