LAGRANGE — Indiana State Supreme Court Justice Steven David returned to LaGrange County Monday, a guest of JDAI program director Randy Merrifield.
David came to speak with local students in programs supported by the JDAI office and meet with local Amish businessmen.
David has been to LaGrange County three times in the last two years to learn more about LaGrange County’s JDAI program.
JDAI, short for Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, is a program designed to help teenagers avoiding incarceration in area juvenile facilities by reaching out to them before trouble happens. Justice David is a member of the state JDAI committee and an advocate of the program.
“It’s a very important program,” David said Monday. “We visited a high school, a middle school and an elementary school where they have a mentoring program. We visited with the high school seniors who are doing the mentoring and talked to some of the kids who are being mentored. We met with some high school administrators and talked about how important it is for the community to be involved. And I think the message I can take back to Indianapolis and our state JDAI steering committee is you have to get out into the community and see all the great work that’s being done, and the culture here in this county is nothing short of phenomenal. This community works together.”
JDAI takes teens who might have otherwise been sent to a juvenile justice facility for nonviolent incidents involving alcohol or tobacco and places them in supervised community service programs and mentoring programs. At one time, Amish teens made up 70% of the teens arrested in LaGrange County each year. But Merrifield said thanks to the efforts of the JDAI programs, which meets with Amish school children and talks about the law, that number is now down to about 50%.
David and Merrifield spent about an hour sitting down with members of Westview’s Plus program which uses high school students to mentor at-risk elementary and junior high school students The program is sponsored by the LaGrange County JDAI office. He spent his lunch hour meeting with local attorneys discussing civility and ethics. Monday afternoon, David spent several hours Monday afternoon meeting with and talking to members of the local Amish community.
David has been a member of the state’s Supreme Court for more than seven years now. He spent 16 years as a circuit court judge, six years as corporate council, three years in private practice and 28 in the U.S. Army.
As an advocate for JDAI, David travels around the state talking about and visiting with people involved in local JDAI programs. He said programs like the one in LaGrange shows JDAI works.
“It reduces recidivism, it keeps them out of the department of corrections, it’s keeping those kids from entering the adult criminal justice system and, probably, just as important for the community is it builds relationships,” he explained. “Randy was telling the story about bringing together law enforcement, schools, the community, JDAI and the members of the Amish population.”
David said the most important element of a successful JDAI is that all the agencies involved, the police departments, the prosecutor’s office, the court systems, and the schools and parents, be willing to work together.
“It’s about relationships, and I think LaGrange County gets that right,” David said.