Trine student assisting with assessment at Allen County Juvenile Center

Sydney Stephan hopes to one day become an attorney specializing in family and elder matters.

She is preparing for that now by seeing how things work on the other side of the law.

Stephan, a Trine University freshman from Fort Wayne, is working with Kathy Armstrong, Steuben County Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) coordinator, to assist in the Conditions of Confinement Facility Self-Assessment at the Allen County Juvenile Center.

The self-assessment is important for Steuben County because the county does not have a secure detention facility for juveniles, so it uses Allen County as its secure detention facility when needed.

“This is another reason it is critical to help identify alternatives for juveniles in the care of Steuben County,” said Stephan. 

The assessment evaluates the conditions of Steuben County youths and others confined at the Allen County Juvenile Center. Conducted in cooperation with the Whitley County JDAI, it covers areas including: classification and intake; health and mental health care; access; programming; training and supervision of employees; environment; restraints, room confinement, due process and grievances; and safety.

Professionals including prosecuting attorneys, probation officers, sheriffs, pastors and principals are assisting with the effort. Working as individuals or teams, they will carry out separate assessments within the facility.

“We are assessing the living conditions of these juveniles and making sure the staff and facility is on task in all aspects of what is expected,” said Stephan.

In addition to making sure the facility is up to standards, the assessment also will evaluate certain juveniles to determine whether this type of confinement is necessary for their individual offense.

Stephan is assigned to the team assessing training and supervision of employees. She also will complete the final report for JDAI.

“I am proud of Sydney for agreeing to take on this role and gain real-world skills in working with professionals from Steuben and Whitley counties as a team to assess the facility,” said Jackie Delagrange, J.D., chair of Trine’s Department of Criminal Justice.

The university has been a partner with JDAI since 2017, when Cisco Ortiz, then chair of the Department of Criminal Justice, joined the organization’s steering committee.

“The JDAI coordinator, Kathy Armstrong, works hard to bring everyone to the table,” said Delagrange. “We have probation, courts (attorneys and a judge), Northeastern Center, Community Corrections, Trine’s Department of Criminal Justice and others that meet to help address juvenile detention in Steuben County.”

The self-assessment opportunity builds on prior experience Stephan had as a temporary legal assistant at a Fort Wayne law firm, working under attorneys who specialized in different areas. She plans to attend law school after graduating from Trine.

“The opportunity of working with the JDAI program introduces me to an area of criminal justice that I typically wouldn't experience until after or later in my college career,” she said. “I think the best way of knowing what you want to do with your degree after college is through experience. When this opportunity came about, it was a no-brainer to participate.”

JDAI is a national effort partnering public, private and community organizations for juvenile justice system improvement. The initiative focuses on the reallocation of public resources from mass incarceration toward investment in youth, families and communities. 

In Steuben County, JDAI is administered through the county’s Probation Department and overseen by Judge Allen Wheat.

Photo: Sydney Stephan, left, and Kathy Armstrong, Steuben County Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) coordinator.