How Better Risk Assessment Cut Indianapolis Juvenile Detention


The National Partnership of Juvenile Services reported in 2006 that Indianapolis’ Marion County Juvenile Detention Center was dirty, chaotic, over its capacity, and unsafe for children. In response to the sexual misconduct charges, the U.S. Department of Justice opened an investigation. Last year, the Justice Department concluded that “certain conditions violate the constitutional rights of the youth [] youth confined are not adequately protected from harm [] and deficiencies in the areas of fire safety, general sanitation, and general safety pose a significant risk of disease and injury to youth and staff.”

A settlement in April requires three years of federal monitoring. The Annie E. Casey Foundation says that, “Changes in leadership, a public scandal and radical reductions in the detention population all contributed to a systemwide transformation, turning a once-troubled jurisdiction into a model for the nation.” Gael Deppert, an ex-juvenile public defender serving as a coordinator for a Casey project in Indianapolis, said, “All the negative stuff in the press actually turned into a plus-positive for Indianapolis. It led to a sense of urgency and motivation for change.” A study found that 77 of 80 youth headed for detention did not present a risk to public safety. Deppert, citing a “fairly dramatic” decline in population under a new risk-assessment method, said, “We began resisting the urge to detain low-risk kids and focused our energies on detaining only those that were a risk to our public safety.”


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