Lawrence County JDAI drafts detention screening tool designed to reduce the number of youth in secure detention

LAWRENCE COUNTY – It has been said that “Children are one-third of our population and all of our future,” and this long-standing sentiment continues to ring true in Lawrence County.

The youth of Lawrence County remain a high priority as well as the services provided to this valuable group. To ensure effective services continue to be offered to the youth and their caregivers, continued evaluation of services and necessary modification of these services must occur. A prime example of this evaluation and modification process can be seen in the recent work of the Lawrence County JDAI.

Lawrence County JDAI initiated in January 2020 and, despite the timing, the work has been unceasing. JDAI stands for Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative and was founded nationally by the Annie E. Casey Foundation more than twenty-five years ago.

Lawrence County JDAI is led by its Co-Coordinators, Katie Messmann, Nedra Brock-Fleetwood, and Scott Wedgewood. Anah Hewetson Gouty acts as the presiding judicial officer for Lawrence County JDAI. The initiating goal of JDAI was to reduce the placement of juveniles in secure detention. An additional goal of this leadership group was to involve many Lawrence County youth-focused agencies in the evaluation and redesign process.

The urgency to reduce placement stems from the negative effects of secure detention on the youth. Troublesome effects include negative mental health effects, interruption of education, the unnecessary stigma for the youth as the youth returns to school, and burdensome expenses to the family, or Lawrence County. Secure detention costs on average $150.00 per day, charged to the parents of the youth if they can afford it, or to Lawrence County.

Indiana Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) associates focused on reallocation of public resources from mass incarceration toward investment in youth, families, and communities.

Lawrence County JDAI has created the following detention statement, “Lawrence County shall use secure juvenile detention when the concern for public safety outweighs the negative impact posed to the youth. Lawrence County shall use an assessment tool when determining if secure detention is appropriate while considering the value and underlying need of each youth.”

Lawrence County JDAI has drafted its detention screening tool designed to reduce the number of youth in secure detention and divert them to alternatives to detention (ATDs), or community resources when available to avoid the negative impacts on youth and the community. Alternatives to detention are methods of detaining juveniles that do not rely on the use of secure detention and as a result, do not have the negative effects mentioned above. Some ATDs are written orders of house arrest or home detention with electronic monitoring.

Nine of the JDAI stakeholders were allowed to attend a JDAI Inter-Site Conference presented by Indiana JDAI to hear sessions involving but not limited to training on trust-based relational intervention, restorative justice, results-based facilitation, and centering youth voices.

Lawrence County JDAI is fortunate to look to the future with an understanding of community partners who make diversion from the juvenile justice system, or transition from the juvenile justice system easier and more likely to result in positive change.

Some of the community members partnering with Lawrence County JDAI and serving youth include, but are not limited to:

  • Ireland Home Based Services-Community Partners
  • Centerstone of Lawrence County
  • Hoosier Uplands
  • Mitchell Community Schools
  • North Lawrence Community Schools
  • Lawrence County Department of Child Services
  • Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department
  • Bedford Police Department
  • Lawrence County Prosecutor’s Office
  • Lawrence County Public Defender’s Agency
  • Lawrence County Probation Department
  • Lawrence County Council
  • Lawrence County Economic Growth Council.

Lawrence County JDAI continues to meet to review data and discuss needed improvements to the juvenile justice system. The continued collaboration of Lawrence County JDAI and its many partners is a prime example of true “community” engagement.

JDAI is extremely appreciative of the work their community partners do and the extreme value they have brought to this process. Lawrence County JDAI and its community partners are truly committed to the cause of ensuring a brighter future for the youth and providing a safer community for all of Lawrence County.