Sunday, June 11, 2006

Crisis At Marion Co. Juvenile Detention Center

The Indianapolis Star editorial series on Marion Co.'s juvenile "injustice" system began today as we alerted you on Friday. The Star raises some very serious problems with the system. The problem starts with juveniles being sent to the center for the most petty of offenses, such as tossing snow through the window of a teacher's car. The Star reports that the 13-year old was hauled off to the center where she was charged and convicted of criminal mischief. The number of cases is staggering. In 2004, the Star reports that 70,000 children in Marion Co. appeared in juvenile court and the numbers are growing.

What the Star has concluded from its investigation of the county's juvenile justice system is that it does anything but rehabilitate problem children. Of particular concern are these findings:

  • Juveniles are not being afforded the constitutional right to due process--40% are not represented by an attorney and parents often waive juveniles' rights.
  • Schools are contributing to the large influx of juveniles into the criminal justice system--Marion Co. schools referred 10,000 of the total cases in 2005, which often involve petty offenses like playground scuffles and food fights.
  • Th detention center is "dirty", "chaotic," and a place filled with suicide risk--even though the lax state oversight has found the center compliant as recently as 2004.

We wondered on Friday whether the Star's report was going to prove damaging to Daniels' Director of Children Services Judge James Payne, who called the shots at the juvenile detention center for nearly 20 years before joining the Daniels' administration last year. It is indeed damaging to Payne. The Star writes:

Much of Marion County's problems can be traced to juvenile court policies, many set by former Judge James Payne, who dominated the system for 20 years.

One example: For years Marion County juveniles who had once served time in a state prison were automatically sent back for another infraction, regardless of the circumstances.

That policy fell hard on 17-year-old Ebonie, who was sent to the Girls School in 1999 for truancy, battery and disorderly conduct. Ebonie had managed to turn her life around -- one of the chief goals of juvenile incarceration. She returned to school and was on track to graduate from Pike High in 2002.

None of that mattered when she got into a fight with her estranged mother. A disorderly conduct charge landed her back in state prison, despite pleas for leniency from teachers, her grandmother and a social worker.

Payne's replacement, Judge Moores, has since dropped such policies. She also has told school administrators that the court will no longer accept cases involving low-level offenses.

The Star series will continue on Monday and Tuesday. Monday's edition will take a look at how magistrates for the Marion Co. juvenile court are often ignoring the intent of the law to the detriment of juvenile offenders. On Tuesday, it will look at the State's law oversight in ensuring that the center is complying with government standards.


Anonymous said...

I give: what happened to Ebonie?

Gary R. Welsh said...

A three-judge panel in 2003 found that the Marion County Juvenile Court "abused its discretion" in the case of Ebonie, a Pike High School student who had served time at the state Girls School. The court's policy at the time was to automatically send juveniles back to the state prison system for any future offense.
Ebonie was returned to prison for disorderly conduct despite overwhelming evidence she had turned her life around. The appeals court ruled that Marion County's one-size-fits-all rule "conflicted with the rehabilitative goals of the juvenile justice system."