Far fewer youths file into Indianapolis’ Marion County juvenile lockup each day, a key result of a reform effort that has reduced crowding and diverted thousands of children into programs outside the center’s walls, reports the Indianapolis Star. Architects of the juvenile justice overhaul see the changes as a starting point. In the third year of a program prompted by a national advocacy group, officials are aiming at ending racial disparities in punishment and transforming a system that many see as perpetuating delinquency rather than healing it.
The juvenile court judge and magistrates reject more delinquency cases submitted by prosecutors or schools. Some get resolved short of court by involving offenders’ families in the case. A reception center screens youths more stringently, sending more lower-risk offenders home before trial instead of locking them up. Judge Marilyn Moores says data collected through the project have helped earn police support for the approach. “Kids who are low-level offenders need to be out in the community and stay connected with the community, because it positively affects them,” she said. The Annie E. Casey Foundation selected Indianapolis as a new site for its three-year Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative in 2005. The program began two years ago, just as crowding and unsafe conditions inside the center brought heavy outside scrutiny.