Experts tell Indiana panel options to juvenile detention could pay off in savings

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INDIANAPOLIS — Society has more effective ways to deal with juvenile crime than locking up children, experts told an Indiana legislative panel Monday.

A parade of witnesses who testified before the Interim Study Committee on Corrections and the Criminal Code touted alternatives to juvenile detention, with some saying locking children up with worse offenders can even make the problem worse.

The option that drew the most attention was a pilot program called the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, promoted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and active in eight Indiana counties.

Program advocates Rebecca Humphey and Michelle Tennell told the panel that the initiative reduces the number of juveniles placed in detention by setting out strict criteria that must first be met, such as whether they present a danger to themselves or the community.

They said the program reduced the number of juveniles in detention in participating counties by 37 percent from 2011-2012, while decreasing the number of kids who re-offended by 16 percent. Humphrey said the program costs about $24 a day per juvenile, compared with more than $100 a day for detention.

Key to making the program work, she and Tennell said, is a collaboration of local leaders such as judges, probation officers, police, school officials and others. Children who get in trouble can be steered into other services such as the Department of Child Services or their families can get help from social workers.

"Having these conversations gets us to an equal playing field for everyone," Humphrey said.

That sounded good to Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis.

"Minority juveniles go to detention at a higher rate than their counterparts," he said.

Humphrey said the initiative, with its strict criteria, addresses that issue.

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