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Youth program keeps Hamilton County Juvenile Detention center mostly empty

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. - Due to severe overcrowding, inmates are pouring out of the Hamilton County jail. As a result, inmates are being housed now down the road, in the virtually-empty juvenile justice center.

The nearly $30 million, state-of-the-art Hamilton County Juvenile Detention Center, built in 2007, is virtually empty today.

“You cannot sit around and wait for the issue to come to you. If you do, you will lose a lot of kids,” said Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge, Steve Nation.

The juvenile detention facility was built to house 76 inmates. On any given day though, there are typically less than ten.

“When the kids get to you, whether they be adult kids or kids in the juvenile setting, certain things have already happened to get them before you,” said Nation.

Nation says one major reason is the success of the county’s Youth Assistance Program.

“What we tried to do was reach back and reach to these kids before they got into trouble and that’s what the whole emphasis was,” he said.

A program that catches kids by having teachers and guidance counselors identify at-risk youth and get them the help they need before they fall into the system is paying off.

When it launched in 2009, the county had around 1,600 juvenile cases a year. Today, there are less than 900. The program has already seen immense success, with real stories to back it up.

“We reached out, got mental health services for he and the family, got the mom services through the trustee, kept the family together, he’s now a sophomore at Westfield High School doing straight A’s and I never saw him in the juvenile system,” said Nation.

The Hamilton County model has been so successful that youth service programs have already begun in Boone and Shelby Counties with plans to move one to Marion County when funding is secured in the coming years.

The Hamilton County Youth Assistance Program receives its funding through many sources, both public and private. Funding in part comes via the Legacy Fund, a Central Indiana Community Foundation affiliate, serving Hamilton County.