'A systems change'

La Porte Circuit Judge Thomas Alevizos (sitting) is seen along with JDAI Coordinator Michael Callahan (left) and Director of Juvenile Court Services Chip Cotman.

La PORTE — When current La Porte Circuit Court Judge Tom Alevizos came to the bench in 2007, he noticed there was a problem concerning the way juvenile cases were being handled.

He immediately went to work fixing the problem.

"Everything was being done wrong," he said. "When I got here things were bad."

Now, La Porte County has joined a national program called Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), and the results could not be more positive. 

"JDAI is not a program, it's not a project, it is a systems change," said Director of Juvenile Court Services Chip Cotman. "So, changing an entire system can take some time. It also has it's struggles. But we are now starting to see the fruits of our labor. All of our up front work that we have done, is starting to come to fruition."

According to Cotman, and JDAI Coordinator Michael Callahan, La Porte County has seen a 48 percent drop in secure detention, and a 54 percent drop in felony filings.

"In 2013, which was our baseline year, we had a 170 secure detention," Callahan said. "In 2016 that number was 81."

Callahan also added that La Porte County is a unique place, because it is one of the few counties in the state that has a director of juvenile services.

"It's kind of a unique set up that we have here in La Porte County," Callahan said. "Nobody really has a Director of juvenile court services like we do. He (Cotman) does the grant, and the financial reporting. In other counties, the JDAI coordinator does the grant, the financial reporting, the data reporting, all of that stuff.

In fact, La Porte County has done so well with JDAI, that the county has received $9,450 through the JDAI Performance Bonus Grant. 

"We received this on Tuesday. They pick six counties out of the state, and if they excelled, they get rewarded," Cotman said. "We got rewarded."

Both Cotman, and Callahan said that while the switch to JDAI has been stressful and tough at times, but they could not be happier and more excited about the direction La Porte County is going.

"It's been a process, the last three years going to JDAI," Cotman said. "Being a systems change it can be kind of stressful at times, getting everybody on the right track and going the right direction, but it's been very, very nice. We are seeing a lot of things change."

Cotman and Callahan that other counties in the state are starting to take notice of the way La Porte County is functioning with JDAI.

"People are very surprised in other counties of how close we work with, for example, our schools, our police, our DCS," Cotman said. "We are very unique in Indiana, the fact that everyone is working together, and we get complimented about that often from Indianapolis."

Cotman added that a lot of the credit goes to Alevizos for La Porte County's success with JDAI.

"Judge Alevizos has been a real pioneer," he said. "He's concerned about kids and families. He's been our driving force to keep this going and keep it moving along."

Both Callahan and Cotman added that things are just getting started with JDAI and La Porte County.

"We really want to strengthen what we  already building on," Cotman said. "We are doing good things right now, and we are seeing good data coming out. So just keep building on that. 

Callahan asserted that he and Cotman both want things to keep rolling even after they leave.

"We need to have a culture that will keep this going," he said. "Because, one day judge is not going to be here, Chip is not going to be here, I am not going to be here. We hope it influences the community to keep this going even after we are all gone."

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