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Juvenile probation program focuses on changing behaviors

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Ian Smith and his mother Kimberly Smith outside their Franklin home. Ian Smith is currently on house arrest and looking for a job to help cover the cost of his probation. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal
Ian Smith and his mother Kimberly Smith outside their Franklin home. Ian Smith is currently on house arrest and looking for a job to help cover the cost of his probation. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal

Sometimes the decision comes to paying the phone bill or the probation fees that month.

New shoes, clothes, groceries: All have been sacrificed to the six years’ worth of probation fees.

Over those six years, Kimberly Smith has paid more than $3,000 in fees to the juvenile probation system and juvenile court in Johnson County after each of her three children was arrested as a juvenile.

Her kids have been arrested as teenagers for crimes such as shoplifting and bringing a knife to school. After each arrest, they are put on probation and completed classes that address their individual needs, such as improving social skills or dealing with anger issues.

The programs have helped her kids in the long run, Smith said. But what most changed her kids’ lives — her oldest son has a full-time job and her daughter is in college — was the personal relationship with their probation officers, she said.

The classes and detention center come with costs, ranging from $150 for a five-week class to $25 a day for a child in the juvenile detention center. Smith has paid more than $3,000 during the past six years, and she still owes $500.

Smith works hard to make sure she pays off part of her debt each month. She would never consider ignoring the fees. She doesn’t pay out of pride or a sense of morality but because she respects the probation officers. Where most would have given up on her kids, they never have, she said.

Of the nearly 1,200 kids referred to the Johnson County Detention Center last year, almost half were put on probation. For an average of six months, they complete service learning projects and courses designed to keep them from getting in trouble again. Of the kids who went on probation, 41 percent did not pay the program fees on time.

The juvenile probation office and court work with families to waive fees or put them on a payment plan, depending on their financial status. Families who can’t pay can go to the juvenile judge and ask to have the fees waived or reduced. Others, such as Smith, work with the probation office to spread their payments out over time. She pays $50 a month when she has the money, or less in months where she didn’t make as much money or has unexpected expenses.

Arrest brings problems

Kimberly Smith was arrested and spent three years on probation after a drug conviction. After her arrest, her two oldest children were sent to live with their grandmother, while her youngest, then 5, went to a therapeutic foster home.

Ian Smith did not attend school while in the home, and his time there is something the family has been trying to make up for for 10 years, Kimberly Smith said. He fell behind in school and his behavioral problems got worse.

Her two oldest kids were arrested once each. Detention and probation were enough to make them straighten up, and both now have jobs, Kimberly Smith said. But Ian Smith, now 17, is different.

Kimberly Smith’s first experience with the Johnson County Juvenile Probation office was in 2008, when Ian Smith was 13 and took a box cutter to school. He pulled it out on a girl in the cafeteria who was bothering him, and Kimberly Smith got a call from the school while he was on his way to the detention center.

Ian Smith has been diagnosed with depression, anger issues, and schizoaffective disorder, which can cause mood swings and psychosis. He has been arrested and on

probation four times since 2008 and has been in the detention center more than seven times.

At the time of his first arrest, he was in mainstream classrooms and doing well, Kimberly Smith said. He might not have brought the box cutter to school with any intention of using it, but his impulsiveness and anger issues took control.

The probation system tries to tailor each juvenile’s experience to their individual needs. Ian Smith has gone twice through some classes that deal with problems he faces, such as Thinking for Change, a class that works on social skills.

Before each juvenile’s initial

hearing, they go through a series of assessments that examine their home lives, social skills, peers and a variety of other factors. Based on those results, the prosecuting attorney and probation officer make recommendations on which programs will be helpful to each kid. Community corrections offers 12 of these programs, ranging from service learning where kids volunteer a few hours a week, to family counseling sessions, therapy to develop social skills and substance abuse treatment.

The programs are funded by federal and state grants, but families are expected to pay fees.

“We want parents to have some responsibility and the juvenile to take responsibility for their actions so they are more committed,” Juvenile Detention Center assistant director Kristi Bruther said.

‘There’s no cushion’

Some kids, like her oldest two, understand the consequences of their actions. They know they don’t want to go back in detention or bring more debt on the family, Kimberly Smith said. But others, like Ian Smith, don’t have a conception of the cost to a parent.

“Kids aren’t getting it,” Kimberly Smith said. “There’s a gap somewhere. They don’t seem to see the consequences. The thought should be: ‘I don’t want to be (in detention) again.’ Instead it’s, ‘Whatever, I can do that.’”

Kimberly Smith has felt the burden of paying the probation fees every month for the past six years. She started working full-time at Kohl’s a year ago, but before that only worked 15 to 25 hours a week for less than $8 an hour. Paying the fees is easier now that she knows how much she’ll make each week, but a flat tire or other emergency expense puts her behind in payments.

“We’re living week-to-week,” she said. “There’s no cushion. For the last six years, it’s been pretty much every month. Monthly bills hurt every time I get them.”

Still, Smith goes in every month, almost without fail, and pays what she can. They have never pressed her to pay more quickly, she said. Now that she is working full time, she can pay $50 a month on the $500 she still owes.

Some parents refuse to pay the fees, and the court will put sanctions that will show up on their record, including fines, probation officer Suzanne Miller said. The office will work with them, though, if they need extra time or a reduction in the fees.

Smith makes her monthly payments out of gratitude to the people who have pushed her kids and believed in them, she said. Her son has a job, and Destiny Smith, her daughter, attends classes at IUPUI while working at the outlet mall in Edinburgh. She hasn’t been on probation in nearly two years, but she still wants to tell her probation officer every time something good happens in her life.

Her kids don’t trust people, especially adults, easily, Kimberly Smith said. But they trust and respect the people in the probation office who have never given up, even as Ian Smith has come back again and again.

Restriction gives insight

Earlier this year, it looked like Ian Smith had turned his life around. He had been off probation for nearly a year, and Kimberly Smith was planning to use a tax refund to pay the remaining fees she owed. It would be the first time in five years she didn’t owe anything for her kids’ sentences.

Then her son smoked marijuana before school and brought a knife to school. He was arrested, taken to the juvenile detention center and eventually put on probation. In April, he violated his probation when he got in a fight at school. Both the knife and the fight cost Smith hundreds more in classes and detention fees.

Ian Smith was sent to the state-run juvenile detention facility in Logansport. He was there for 21 days for an evaluation of his mental health. The evaluation at the Logansport Juvenile Correction Facility determined that Ian Smith has the ability to tell right from wrong and can turn his life around.

Now home on house arrest, his experience in the state facility has made him see where a life of continual crime could lead him, Kimberly Smith said. The tight restrictions on his freedom made him realize he doesn’t want to end up in prison, she said.

“I told him I don’t want to spend my Saturdays visiting him in prison,” she said. “His sister looked him in the eye and said she didn’t want the uncle to her kids to be in prison.”

He’s meeting with a counselor from Adult and Child Mental Health Center in Indianapolis through his school and has started working to get his medications right so that his depression and anger issues are properly treated.

He is trying now to get a job so he can help his mom pay off the $500 she still owes for his probation fees. He is completing his high school classes online and has started applying to culinary schools. He wants to own a restaurant in Jamaica some day, he said.

His dream is to attend Johnson and Wales University’s Miami campus, he said. Tuition there costs more than $27,000 a year.

Money is always tight for the family, but if her son finishes high school and gets into the university, Kimberly Smith will do anything to help pay for him to go there.

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