Kosciusko County Superior Court I Judge Karin McGrath
Kosciusko County Superior Court I Judge Karin McGrath
Grant funding for the two JDAI coordinator positions has dried up, but the Kosciusko County Council found a way Thursday to keep the two positions going at least for the rest of 2022 and possibly for 2023.

Council President Sue Ann Mitchell told the rest of the Council that she asked Kosciusko County Superior Court I Judge Karin McGrath to come to Thursday’s meeting to provide an update on the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) and the lack of funding for the program’s co-coordinators.

“The county is extremely blessed to have JDAI as an initiative that is funded from the state in the neighborhood of $70,000 for juvenile funding that we’ve been granted this year,” McGrath said. “We don’t have an initiative without coordination, however, the coordination money ran out in July. That was by design. All the counties who had JDAI - we’ve had it since 2017, some counties have had it much longer - it was designed to be funded by a grant for the first four years. After three years, it tabled down, and after four years it’s gone.”

She said the idea was that the county would come up with a way to fund the coordination to continue to use the funds.

Looking at ways to fund the coordination, McGrath said JDAI is an initiative. “It’s not just a program, it’s an umbrella initiative that looks at ways to support the juveniles in our community,” she said.

McGrath said she’s amazed at the decisions the Council makes concerning “a whole lotta money in this county,” but she couldn’t think of “much that we spend money on that has more far-reaching implications than” when we’re dealing with youth, “the very people who are going to make up our community some day,” with “positive ways to redirect them when they are at their most vulnerable state.”

The idea of JDAI was to keep kids out of detention facilities, out of boys and girls schools, she said, which can be very damaging and traumatic to children and they often come out worse.

“After many, many, many studies show that’s not a successful way to rehabilitate youth, it’s damaging, (we) started looking at ways to find alternatives. That initial thrust of that initiative, or program, has proven quite successful. In fact, the county has saved an enormous amount of money,” McGrath said.

In 2017, that savings was in the neighborhood of $88,000 on detention, she said.  “So far this year we’ve spent $800. Those numbers are a little skewed. This year happens to be extremely low. Even by cutting that $88,000 in half, we’re saving a tremendous amount of money on detention dollars, not to mention not damaging these children,” McGrath continued.

With the initiative, “the sky’s the limit. There are multiple programs right now that fall under that initiative,” she said.

There are two coordinators for JDAI and they are probation officers - Kara Shively and David Bailey.

“They work outside of their normal job as a probation officer in running these programs and coordinating these efforts. Everything from Teen Court to training of officers ... helping officers understand the way youth think, how they function, the best way to police them, teaching the teen brain,” McGrath said. “... They do all of that outside of their normal working hours, outside of their probation officer duties. And as I said, as of July they’re not paid for that any longer.”

The grant had been funding the coordinators at $12,500 each, or $25,000 a year. McGrath said she was looking for creative ways to continue funding the coordinating effort so they can continue to receive the state money to continue to have the programs that fall under JDAI.

Councilwoman Kimberly Cates asked McGrath to explain the success rate of the two coordinators and a scope of what they’ve done in the last approximate five years.

“Because haven’t they taken the numbers severely down as far as the children that are being sent away?” Cates asked.

McGrath said “certainly.” In 2017, there were 56 admissions to detention facilities. That dropped to 47 in 2018, 26 in 2019 and two in 2020. She didn’t have admissions numbers for 2021 on Thursday.

She said it generally is a public safety initiative as well.

“The idea isn’t we never send kids to detention facilities. Sadly, there are times when we need to. I’ve had to send them to them. There are some right now, a couple that have to be in detention facilities for the safety of this community, for the safety of those kids and it’s just absolutely essential. But it’s being mindful, really wise in deciding when it is necessary and not just because we throw our hands up. We try what we can try to give them another option. But, yes, the numbers have vastly decreased,” McGrath stated.

Beyond just keeping kids out of detention, she said what the co-coordinators are doing “is entirely mindsetting the community of working together to meet the needs of our youth. We have the school involvement, other non-profit faith-based places, service agencies that are working together to meet the needs of juveniles, and from our standpoint, we need somebody to continue to coordinate that effort or the entire program falls apart,” McGrath explained.

Councilwoman Joni Truex said McGrath did a “really good job” of presenting her request for money to fund the coordinator positions previously to the county wage committee. The committee’s recommendation to the County Council was unanimous to approve the funding request.

Mitchell told the Council she looked over the list of funds and there was a juvenile probation user fee fund and there were enough funds there to carry the two coordinator positions for at least the rest of this year and probably next year. Those juvenile probation user fee funds do not seem to have been used, she said. It isn’t a dormant fund, Mitchell said, but it’s a fund that has not been used.

“So this might be the highest and best use for that fund to see that this program continues,” Mitchell stated.

She said the Council needed to approve doing an additional appropriation at the September meeting in order to consider the request.

“In that time frame, we have to figure out that job description and we have to figure out exactly where they fall,” Mitchell said. “(County Auditor) Michelle (Puckett) and I talked about it today and there is at least one position that looks like it’s almost a comparable, that would be the rate that we would use. They would not be paid at their probation rate, they would be paid at a coordinator’s rate, and so those things will be ironed out, but if we can get approval at least to do the additional appropriation, that would give us the opportunity to address this.”

Councilman Jon Garber asked how much money they were talking about. Mitchell said $12,500 each, or $25,000 per year.

Cates made the motion to go forward with the additional appropriation of $25,000. Puckett said the additional appropriation would only cover 2022. If the Council wants to do it again in January, another additional appropriation for the 2023 budget would need approved in January since it  was not included in the 2023 budget. Councilman Mike Long seconded Cates’ motion and it was approved 6-0, with Councilwoman Kathleen Groninger absent.