LaPorte County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Alevizos said when he took office nearly 12 years ago, many young offenders were being locked up and the number was growing.

He began diverting the low-risk offenders to other types of programs, and the effort picked up steam when he learned of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative operated by The Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The number of young people sent to detention in the county last year was 81, less than half of what it had been just four years earlier, according to figures provided by Alevizos. The numbers of young people arrested, charged with felonies and sent to prison also were slashed.

"We don't want the system to create criminals like before," Alevizos said, referring to the threat of mixing low- and high-risk offenders.

Screening has impact

Lake and Porter counties also are locking up far fewer young people these days, in part because of their involvement in JDAI.

Lake County held 677 young people in detention last year (453 so far this year), as compared to 1,199 four years earlier, according to figures provided by Timothy Gericke, chief deputy of the Lake Superior Court Juvenile Division.

When Porter County implemented an effort in 2012 to better assess young people brought to its juvenile center, it had 447 residents in juvenile detention, said Tony McDonald, coordinator of the county's JDAI.

The number of residents at the detention center has fallen every year since, to 243 last year, he said.

McDonald said 31 of the state's 92 counties were taking part in JDAI by the end of last year, which covers 70 percent of Indiana's youth population.

The JDAI program was started two decades ago with the goal of reducing the number of young people held in local detention facilities, according to the group's website. It now operates in more than 300 jurisdictions in 39 states and the District of Columbia.

Participating sites have reduced their average daily detention populations by 43 percent in ways that protect or even enhance public safety, the group says.

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JDAI strategies

This is accomplished through eight strategies including collaborations, objective risk assessment criteria to determine who needs detention, and new or expanded alternatives to detention.

"(Ideally) we're only detaining kids who present a risk to public safety" or who are at risk of failing to appear back in court, McDonald said.

The assessment tool, which is referred to as the reception center, determines whether young people should be kept at the detention center, placed in an alternative program or released, he said.

Among the alternatives is house arrest, of which there are two tiers of supervision, McDonald said.

Having fewer young people in detention has allowed for four times as many monthly checks on those in home detention, he said.

The county also is offering day and evening reporting programs to help with tutoring.

"JDAI is all about detaining the right kid, for the right reason, for the right amount of time," said Lake County Juvenile Court Judge Thomas Stefaniak Jr.

Lake County also uses a two-tier house arrest and has beefed up its surveillance of participants as part of its alternatives to juvenile detention, he said.

The young people also are referred to various programs, and some are kept out of the delinquent system altogether through informal adjustments, Stefaniak said.

A downward trend in delinquencies over the past several years also has contributed to the drop in numbers at juvenile detention centers, Stefaniak said.

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Porter/LaPorte County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Bob is a 23-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.