ANDERSON — Several community leaders from detention agents to legislators and judges to police officers gathered Thursday for the official kickoff of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative program.
The JDAI program, which is being implemented in 11 Indiana counties this year, including Madison, looks at different ways to punish juvenile offenders other than putting them in secure detention. Those counties will join eight Indiana counties already implementing the system.
Numerous studies presented to the group showed that juveniles who are placed in detention are much more likely to return to jail as adults. JDAI, a nationwide program, looks to curb that trend known as recidivism.
Madison County is one of a few counties with a juvenile detention center separate from the actual jail. But the juvenile program doesn't have many options other than putting offenders in secure detention or cutting them lose and hoping they show up to a court hearing down the road.
"Right now, we don't have anything in between those two options," Kim Townsend said.
Townsend will be the new coordinator for Madison County's JDAI program. Part of her responsibilities will be to attend all meetings and act as a liaison between the county and state program.
"I think it would be in our best interest to see a decline in youth detention," she said. "Because it seems when youth are detained, it becomes a pathway to adult detention. It's just not a good thing for young people to enter detention unless it's absolutely necessary."
The JDAI program offers funds to communities to help them enhance the lives of juveniles. Keeping them out of trouble is the first step to keeping them out of incarceration.
Michelle Tennell, Indiana's statewide director of JDAI, said community programs for youth have to be stepped up.
Townsend said one of the first goals is to get some more recommended programs up and running. She said Madison County no longer has a Boys & Girls Club, which can offer vital after-school programs to keep children out of trouble.