Saturday, June 17, 2006

Star Calls On Payne To Publicly Account For Juvenile Mess

As his boss Gov. Daniels' heads out of town on a trade mission to Japan, state child services' director James Payne is coming under increasing fire for his botched management of the Marion Co. juvenile court and detention center for 2 decades. An expanded report in today's Star discloses that Payne knowingly employed guards and other staff at the juvenile detention center with criminal records. As it first reported yesterday, more than one in four guards and supervisors were discovered to have criminal records after background checks were made when one of them was arrested for drug charges on Wednesday. The Star's Tim Evans and Richard Walton write today:

Bingham said responsibility for performing past background checks rested with Ellison and his then-boss, former juvenile court Judge James Payne.

Payne left the juvenile court post in early 2005 to head the Indiana Department of Child Services, the agency responsible for protecting Indiana's children. Eleven of the 24 found to have criminal records were hired after Payne left office, including five since Bingham's appointment in April.

Bingham blamed confusion during the leadership transition for the lack of checks on some recent hires.

Payne said Friday that all workers hired under his tenure underwent background checks. "Everybody who was employed went through the county personnel . . . and the policy was that everybody went through a criminal check," he said. "I don't know that anyone could have slipped through."

Payne acknowledged that the center had hired some workers with criminal histories and said that was done with knowledge of their ecords. (emphasis added)

"In juvenile court, we believed in rehabilitation, and we looked at those offenses as part of that," he said. "I know we had some people there with criminal records. But those criminal records -- some of those were long ago; others were so minor as to be insignificant."

Thirteen of the workers with criminal records were hired during Payne's tenure, including Robertson.

In the case of Gates Robertson, the guard charged with drug possession, Payne's policy allowed him to be hired as a guard in spite of three prior criminal convictions, including battery, criminal conversion and theft/receiving stolen property.

In an editorial today, the Star demands that Judge Payne publicly account for his role in creating the mess at the juvenile detention center. The editorial reads, in part:

The judges and administrators responsible for overseeing the detention center must be held accountable. And that accountability should start with former juvenile court Judge James Payne, now head of the Indiana Department of Child Services.

Payne ran the detention center and the juvenile court for nearly two decades before Gov. Mitch Daniels appointed him to manage DCS in December 2004. As the juvenile court judge, Payne developed a well-deserved reputation as a micromanager. Yet, on his watch convicts were hired to guard children and criminal background checks apparently were rare or nonexistent.

In his current role, Payne is responsible for managing Indiana's child protection and foster care services. The current revelations are quickly eroding public trust in his abilities.

Payne needs to come forward immediately with a thorough explanation of how the mess at the detention center developed and why he did not confront it.

The Star editorial position is a reversal from a position at least one editorial writer, Rishawn Biddle, had prior to yesterday's development, who defended the newspaper against AI's criticism that the Star's editorial series this past week had failed to call Judge Payne to account for his role in creating the problems. Biddle, responding then to AI's criticism, wrote:

You may be right to question whether he who heads DCS should be the one to do so. But that's not the question at the heart of the series -- laser focus is key to explaining an issue at times -- and therefore it didn't come up.

AI is glad to see the Star come around to our thinking on this matter. Even Rishawn is urging Payne to offer an explanation for his actions today.


Lisa said...

I am a former foster child and current child advocate...

First of all, I would like to say that Payne's actions are completely unacceptable.

Secondly, I'd like to recommend the book "A Kind and Just Parent" by William Ayers.

For five years, Ayers acted as a teacher and observer in a juvenile court prison.

In his book, he explains the history of juvenile court.

Founded by the legendary Jane Addams to act as a "kind and just parent" to children in need, juvenile court today epitomizes the confusing and confused way that the American justice system deals with children.

RiShawn Biddle said...

Actually Gary, it's not a reversal of any sort. Let's re-read what I've written:

"Sorry if our suggestions didn't please you, but if you actually understand the system, you have to realize that it isn't simply an issue of one former judge, who deserves blame, but of collective neglect both by county officials, state officials and judges not willing to actually force the issue of how juvenile justice should be run."

And it isn't. And my recent comments don't suggest anything different. Payne has plenty for which to answer, but so does the Marion County Superior Court's judges, who had allowed this to continue for two decades. To suggest otherwise is a complete misreading of anything I've said. Period.

Advance Indiana said...

I guess that's another one we'll have to disagree on Rishawn. I'm pleased all the same with the position you and the Star are taking today.

Anonymous said...

good lord. can Rishawn be any more condescending? "Let's re-read", "If you actually understand" Reads to me like "I am the supreme knower of everything, and since you are too stupid to understand, let's see if I can come down from my mountain of greatness to explain it to your pathetic little mind"

but that might just be me :)

RiShawn Biddle said...

Disagree all you want Gary, but what I wrote is what I wrote. Your interpretation means nothing on this one. While I greatly respect your work in general, this is one case where you're wrong in your rather selective interpretation.