Task force looks at reforming juvenile justice system

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INDIANAPOLIS — It’s been a rough year for young people in Indianapolis.

At least three dozen juveniles have survived non-fatal shootings, nine have been murdered and six teenagers have been charged with murder.

Monday morning, the bipartisan Juvenile Justice Reform Task Force, with state lawmakers, corrections officials, judges, educators, prosecutors and defense attorneys on board, will meet to chart the state’s progress in reforming its system for handing out justice to children accused of crimes.

“I think it’s about time. I think that something like this needed to be done a little while ago,” said Lurenzo Johnson of Kids In Development, Inc. “A lot of kids are just wannabes. They want to fit in and find their way.”

Between 2007 and 2017, Indiana reduced its juvenile centers’ population statewide by 60% while delinquency rates dropped 45%.

“We have a mentoring program, we started off mentoring in the juvenile facility, going to certain residents, speaking with certain residents in there,” said Johnson. “There’s a lot of recidivism from the juvenile center because kids didn’t have anywhere to go and they don’t wanna be at home so they get locked back up.

“They didn’t like the neighborhoods they was growing up in, they didn’t like the home lifestyle and so different things accounted for that.”

A task force report last September found Indiana doesn’t have the data to compare juvenile crime and punishment outcomes, it sends children as young as six years old into the system, loads up juvenile offenders and their families with fines and fees they can’t afford and has inconsistencies from one end of the state to the other on treatment, diversion and services.

“This will hopefully put everybody on the same page, but still give them the autonomy and individuality their communities need, but when you have a common language it makes it a lot easier to serves the needs of all of the juveniles across the state of Indiana,” said Representative Wendy McNamara.

McNamara, who is one of the chairs of the commission, says they will look at the outcomes and consider legislative change to make improvements. 

She says they could take action as soon as the next session. Unless it would require a change in the budget, then it would have to wait until the next budget cycle in 2023. 

“It’s the first comprehensive look at our juvenile justice system in the last 50 years. And as you and I both know, juveniles have changed in the last 50 years. So it’s about time for this to happen. And maybe a new approach might come out of it,” said McNamara.

The Mackida, Loveal and Trip Outreach Center in Martindale Brightwood takes in kids who exit the juvenile system.

“We do alternative education to assist scholars who are suspended or expelled from school. We keep them connected with their school to have them have a structured place to come during that expulsion time to be able to help keep them out of trouble and still have a positive academic place to come,” said LaShauna Triplett, who counts 150 youngsters in her program since the start of the year.

“Some of our measurable outcomes are if they come into us in the system or are involved in the judicial system, did they re-offend? Did they get any new cases?”

Later this week, city-county councilors will learn details of Mayor Joe Hogsett’s plans to spend $15 million next year on community anti-violence programs with some of that money earmarked for juvenile services.

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