Leaders with Juvenile Justice Center are close to settling lawsuit

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WSBT on 10/8/2019 by Katlin Connin

Children at the Juvenile Justice Center in South Bend could see some big changes in their stays.

The JJC is close to settling a lawsuit. That lawsuit centers around an 11-year-old boy.

His parents say the JJC frequently kept their son in solitary confinement and offered him no special education or support. That’s despite the fact the boy was diagnosed with a speech impediment and emotional and learning disabilities. If the County Council signs off, the settlement would award the family $100,000.

But there would be benefits to other kids who may come through these doors.

Bill Bruinsma was the executive director at the Juvenile Justice Center for years before he decided to pursue other opportunities in 2011. He came back in January.

“There was a need here and I wanted to be here. My heart has been here from the beginning,” said Bruinsma, JJC executive director.

That’s why he supports the policy changes proposed in the settlement. Some he’s already put into place — like the 15 minute evaluation rule on room restrictions.

“Gone are the days where you can just put a child in a cell and say, ‘OK after a couple of hours when you calm down you can come out,” said Bruinsma.

Bruinsma says his staff will need more training to properly carry out that 15 minute rule.

“You have to have more training in terms of safe crisis management. You have to do more training in terms of de-escalation techniques,” said Bruinsma.

The settlement requires one staff member for every four kids. It would also require a clinical psychologist to screen kids for mental health concerns.

“Gives us a little better of an idea of who’s coming in, what do they need,” said Bruinsma.

Bruinsma says finding an individualized plan for each kid who comes through the JJC is vital for the whole community.

“They are all our children. They are going to be back out in the community and if we don’t start the rehabilitative efforts quickly, we can lose these children,” said Bruinsma.

Bruinsma says the County Council will vote on whether to approve the settlement at its meeting Tuesday. He says he fully supports the settlement and has already signed it himself.