KOKOMO, Ind. (AP) — One or two nights a week after wrapping up his work day for the Kokomo Police Department, Detective Mike Banush heads out to make some extra rounds.
He and five other officers take turns covering four- to five-hour shifts visiting juveniles seven days a week to monitor their probation as part of the Operation to Reduce Recidivism. Those relatively quick home visits are part of a greater initiative to reform the juvenile justice system and give youth a better chance to become productive members of society.
“It’s good for the police to be involved because we get to know the kids who are in trouble,” Banush told the Kokomo Tribune. “You develop relationships. You try to be a mentor to these kids because their home lives aren’t always the best. You see that and you start to see why they’re in trouble.”
ORR is one option in Howard County’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, a national program supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, federal and state government that supports moving at-risk youth from secure detention into community-based programs.
The initiative has expanded to nearly 200 sites in 39 states since its start in 1992. JDAI was first launched in Indiana in 2006 in Marion County. By 2012, seven more JDAI sites had opened in Indiana, including Howard County.
“We are only able to do this because of Judge (Lynn) Murray,” said attorney Erik May, who is the referee for Howard County Circuit Court’s juvenile court. “It’s really her vision and her guidance that have gotten us to this point.”
The local ORR program has run off and on in recent years, depending on whether grant money was available to compensate officers and other staff for the additional duty. Banush has been involved since the beginning, and the initiative most recently started in March.
Howard County received a $71,500 state grant distributed by the Department of Correction to restart JDAI this year, with an additional $92,000 coming to maintain the initiative through June 2015.
Officers may spend five minutes to 30 minutes checking on each youth in the ORR program, Banush said, depending on the terms of their probation and how much their parents are involved. He remains on a first-name basis with some of his past charges, adding he and his wife usually buy Christmas presents for one of the children.
Developing that relationship between the kids and officers takes time, he added.
“They’re always apprehensive about talking to you,” Banush said. “You try to show them you’re human, not just a police officer. . It’s not going to help every kid, but if it helps a few of the kids, it’s well worth it.”
In addition to ORR, Howard County’s JDAI offers the option of 24-hour adult supervision, electronic home detention bracelets or shelter care at the Kinsey Youth Shelter, which is a less restrictive atmosphere than the center’s secure detention.
“The goal is to make sure the right kids are spending time in detention,” said Jeff Lipinski, director of the Kinsey Youth Center. “It’s a really neat push. It’s a different way to look at things.”
From when the JDAI program initially began in 1992 to 2012, the average daily population in juvenile detention nationwide dropped by 43 percent, and total admissions were reduced by 39 percent, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2012 annual JDAI results report.
The juvenile crime rate — which factors in delinquency reports, felony reports, juvenile arrests and juvenile intakes — fell by an average of 36 percent since JDAI started.
“It’s a slow process. It’s a grand-scale change to the juvenile justice system,” said Chris Biehn, assistant chief of JDAI, who works with the JDAI Howard County coordinator Rob Pruett. “JDAI is a look at the entire system; we have to look at the way we handle cases, the way we get cases through court.”
Each school in Howard County has a representative involved in JDAI, as well as the YMCA, the Carver Center, The Villages family services agency, local hospitals and county courts. Probation officers, police officers and representatives from the other agencies meet regularly to discuss cases, review children’s progress and develop new alternatives to detention.
“It’s really a community effort to look at the problem of delinquency in our county and think about ways to get them out of detention and not only keep them from re-offending but to help them become productive in the community,” May said.
Youth enter JDAI following an arrest. Many kids, once taken into custody, would have to stay at the Kinsey Center rather than be sent home on probation because their parents were unable or unwilling to provide the necessary supervision.
Having officers available through ORR to check on those kids helped solved the problem.
“Parent refusal was by far our biggest reason (not to release a juvenile),” Biehn said. “This has provided some reassurance for the parent.”
Juveniles in JDAI tend to be younger or on their first offense, Lipinski said, and secure detention would be an excessive punishment.
Of the 42 juveniles who have been involved in JDAI since it started about four months ago, two have recommitted with a felony-level crime and two have recommitted with a misdemeanor, Biehn said.
“We had seen a lot of good work done in the past where we were connecting off-duty Kokomo police officers with some of our high-risk and medium-risk kids,” he said. “Most juvenile crime occurs between those hours (4 and 8 p.m.) and right after school gets out.”
In juvenile court, the “sentence” or terms of probation is based on the level of risk that the children will become repeat offenders, rather than the severity of the offense. Depending on the offense and the risk, probation often includes a certain curfew, with potential exceptions for an after-school job or extra-curricular activities.
Juvenile cases are reviewed in court every three months to monitor progress and assess ongoing risk.
JDAI is a positive change in the juvenile justice system, and several stakeholders would like to see additional progress made. They eventually would like to open an after-school reporting center, where youth could come for tutoring and recreation instead of finding more destructive ways to fill their free time.
“With the research saying that implemented statutory curfews or fines don’t really help, what we want is after-school programming for kids,” Biehn said.