From 1995 to 2004, juvenile court cases increased by 17.5 percent in Indianapolis’s Marion County and 40 percent statewide, says the Indianapolis Star. In 2004 alone, 70,000 children appeared in Marion County courts. The flood of children into the system is only one example of the many problems plaguing Marion County’s juvenile justice system, the Star says in an editorial. In April, nine former county employees were charged with molesting teen girls at the detention center. In May, the National Partnership for Juvenile Services declared the detention center unsafe for inmates and staff. The report was sharply critical of management. “There’s a lot to clean up, there’s no question about it,” said presiding judge Cale Bradford. “And it’s a tragedy that has not been addressed until now.”
The Star editorial board inquiry finds that “a juvenile justice system intended to rehabilitate kids is doing anything but: juveniles in the state and county often do not receive due process.” The detention center is “dirty” and “chaotic,” a place filled with “suicide risks,” says the National Partnership report. State oversight has been horribly lax. “The whole system needs an overhaul,” says Susan Boatright, a former magistrate who now runs the juvenile division of Marion County’s Public Defender Agency. The inefficient, dysfunctional system is costly to taxpayers. Judges have been quick to send juveniles to state prisons — 9,600 between 1990 and 2005 — where costs run as high as $300 a day per inmate. Marion County taxpayers now owe the state $60 million in back payments for housing juvenile offenders. The human costs are even higher. Troubled families are forced to use the juvenile court as their only avenue for receiving counseling and other mental health treatment. To get help, parents end up filing charges against their own children. The criminal justice system is far from an ideal setting for deciding who should receive treatment and how it should be administered, the Star says.