Lake Juvenile Court begins review of detention risk-assessment tool

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NWI.com on 11/21/2019 by Sarah Reese

CROWN POINT — More than two dozen people packed a small conference room Monday at the Lake County Juvenile Center to begin the process of fine-tuning a tool officials use to decide when children accused of delinquency should be detained.

Lake Juvenile Court Judge Thomas Stefaniak echoed Indiana Supreme Court Justice Steven David when he said the goal would be “to detain the right kids, for the right reasons, for the right amount of time.”

Stefaniak said he had heard complaints and frustrations from some police departments about when children are released from custody.
He encouraged those gathered to return in January to begin taking a closer look at proposed changes to a point-based risk-assessment tool the court uses to determine if a child should be detained.

“We can learn from each other,” Stefaniak said.

Studies show children often act on impulse because their brains are not yet fully developed. Holding them in a juvenile detention facility “has a profoundly negative impact” on their “mental and physical well-being, their education and their employment,” according to a report by the Justice Policy Institute.

Research suggests teens held in detention are more likely to continue to engage in delinquent behavior and that being incarcerated can increase the likelihood that they will commit another crime, the report says.

To combat this problem, Lake County joined the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative in 2009. The number of children held in the Lake County Juvenile Detention Center has fallen by 70% since 2010.

Stefaniak said one goal is to increase communication with police, including about what information can be provided to show a child could be a danger to themself or the community or at risk of not returning to court.

Much like the adult court system, decisions on whether a child should be released from custody while a delinquency petition is pending are based on community safety and flight risk.

After the meeting, Hammond Police Chief John Doughty said he had spoken with Stefaniak about his concerns and liked the proposed changes to the detention tool.

Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott shined a spotlight on the issue last month when he criticized the court’s decision in October to release a 17-year-old girl charged with making an online threat to shoot up Hammond High School on Sept. 11.

Doughty said he was encouraged by Monday’s meeting and planned to return in January. Hammond police have been working on their own for more than 10 years to reduce the number of children they send to the county Juvenile Center, he said.

Griffith Police Chief Greg Mance said the number of children detained from his community also has decreased significantly in recent years.

He surveyed his officers for input before Monday’s meeting, he said.

“We have so few interactions, it’s hard to find anybody who had anything negative to say,” he said.