At the start of 2019, the Delaware County Juvenile Court stopped charging juveniles for days they spend in detention.
Delaware County Juvenile and Probate Judge David Hejmanowski said Friday that for more than 10 years, the juvenile court had been charging juveniles $175 for each day they spend in detention. Hejmanowski said juveniles, especially those under 16, often have no ability to pay the detention fine.
“There are three considerations here — practical, philosophical and economic — and they all led us to the same conclusion,” Hejmanowski said. “There is simply no reasonable way to expect a 12-, 13-, or 14-year-old child who can’t work to pay back hundreds or thousands of dollars in detention costs. Even 16- and 17-year-olds who can be working are working a limited number of hours so that they can focus on school and on other court orders they’ve been given: community service, drug and alcohol education, mental health counseling or paying restitution.
“The last thing we want is for a child who has successfully completed everything else we’ve asked them to do — who is succeeding in school and contributing to society — to be unable to get off of court supervision because of detention costs,” Hejmanowski said.
He added court staff kept track of the detention fee throughout the case, but in many cases, he waived the detention fine at the conclusion of the case because the juvenile simply had no way to pay it back.
“From an economic standpoint, the continued collection made no sense for the court and the county,” Hejmanowski said. “We collected only a few thousand dollars a year from these costs, waived the vast majority of them because the children against whom they were assessed were indigent, but spent massive amounts of time and money, inputting, tracking, attempting collection, and then waiving and deleting the costs from our records. It costs far more to track them than we were collecting. The practice was not an efficient use of taxpayer dollars.”
Hejmanowski said Delaware County shares use of a detention facility with Union County, Madison County and Champaign County. He added Delaware, the largest of the four counties, contributes less than a quarter of juveniles, because the court’s detention use is “drastically down.”
“Ten years ago we used more than 3,200 bed days in our detention center. Last year it was just over 1,200,” Hejmanowski said. “Part of that is a decrease in overall delinquency filings, and part of it is that we have established several successful, grant-funded programs that are highly effective at keeping kids out of detention. And those programs are working. Recidivism is down, violent delinquent acts are down, and overall delinquency filings are down.”
Hejmanowski said he has been practicing law in Delaware County for 20 years, and delinquency is the lowest he’s seen it.
“People like to complain about ‘kids today,’ but the truth is that kids today are better behaved, better educated, and better prepared for the future than kids have ever been,” Hejmanowski said. “Juvenile delinquency is at the lowest rate that it has been for generations.”
Hejmanowski added parents still face a cost when their child is placed in detention for food and care, and the cost is equivalent to a temporary child support order.
According to the judge, Delaware County’s cooperation between schools, law enforcement, treatment providers, and community organizations like the United Way create “an incredible effective network to prevent kids and families from being involved in the court system.”
“It’s important to remember that courts exist to do justice, not generate revenue,” Hejmanowski said.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.