Recent arrest highlights challenges of juveniles in adult jails

INDIANAPOLIS - Within the Marion County Jail, among the nearly 2,000 adult inmates, a special cellblock houses 27 juveniles.

"We love them and care for them as children," said Stella Vandivier, principal of the Indianapolis Public School inside the jail. "But you can never lose sight of the fact that at any given time, things could go very badly."

Indiana law requires adult and juvenile offenders be separated by sight and sound, but even among the juveniles, some extra care is required because they might have gang affiliations or be witnesses in crimes.

Juveniles are more expensive to incarcerate because they require the direct supervision of one or more sheriff's deputies at all times, and the sheriff must also provide classroom space so offenders can keep up with mandated education requirements.

"We might have to find a cellblock that could hold up to 10 to 12 inmates, but then that would limit the number of adults that we can take in," Sheriff John Layton said.

The recent arrest of 16-year old Simeon Adams in the shooting death of a west-side man raises another issue: intervening with juveniles before they get to adult jails.

Adams had been charged with 29 separate felonies and serious crimes before landing in the Marion County Jail.

Rev. Charles Harrison, with the Ten Point Coalition, said a criminal history like Adams' is not rare.

"We need to take a look at our juvenile laws, because a lot of these kids have extensive criminal histories," Harrison said. "People are asking what they're doing on the street. What are we doing to control their behavior?"

The juvenile population at the Marion County Jail continually hovers near or at capacity, while the Juvenile Detention Center has more than 100 empty beds.

Follow Jack Rinehart on Twitter: @jackrinehart6

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