Indianapolis Star Editorial

Juvenile Justice Ready for its Face-lift

September 1, 2005
Our position: County leaders need to pitch in to help overhaul juvenile justice system.

A $60 million debt owed to the state for housing underage offenders has long threatened Marion County's fiscal health. Yet, Superior Court Judge Cale Bradford says much-needed reform of the juvenile justice system has been ignored because it was long perceived as a "closed shop" from the rest of the criminal justice system.

Changing that perception explains several recent moves, including the merger of the juvenile probation program into the county community corrections department.

Now Bradford says it's time for other county officials to do their part in this necessary overhaul. He's right. It can't be done without a collective effort.

A long-running propensity for locking up juvenile offenders is one reason for the $60 million bill. On any given day, 230 youths from Marion County are held in state correctional centers. Money will be needed to fix a dilapidated 20-bed youth detention center on Delaware and Fall Creek, which was shut down in March; the main juvenile detention center also exceeds its court-mandated cap of 144 inmates.

The cost to taxpayers goes beyond the price of prisons. A jailed juvenile likely is missing out on an education, meaning he isn't learning necessary job or life skills and increasing the risk he will become an adult criminal.

To reduce recidivism and keep more youths out of state prisons, Bradford and his fellow judges envision the expansion of alternatives such as group homes, day treatment centers and intense home supervision. State corrections officials are willing to go along; Community Corrections has already applied for a $1 million state grant for such efforts.

Meanwhile, Indianapolis Public Schools has helped by ending its policy of referring school altercations to the courts, a reason why about 70,000 youths were in court last year.

Yet, more cooperation and coordination are needed across the county. Bradford and his fellow judges have made the tough first steps toward fixing juvenile justice. It's time for other leaders in the county to join them.