Judge Janelle Lawless likes assisting people. Her favorite part of her job as Chief Judge of the Ingham County Circuit Court is her ability to help families change for the better. She likes seeing the evolution in children and families as they work hard and utilize the programs available to them. She said this is why she attends the Ingham Academy graduation every year.
“It’s inspiring,” she said. “A lot of these youth had difficult home lives and to get to the point where they are getting their high school diploma shows dedication on their part.”
Ingham Academy is a collaboration of four key institutions. The Ingham County Intermediate School District provides the teachers. Highfields provides behavioral treatment specialists. Peckham, Inc. provides vocational training, and the Ingham County Circuit Court provides Juvenile Court Officers on-site. It’s a unique combination, but one that has been extremely successful in Ingham County.
“It has a tremendous success rate in terms of recidivism,” she said. “Three percent after one year. That’s way below the state average.”
The low recidivism rate shows that once students leave Ingham Academy, they have the life and social skills they need to lead a successful life, away from crime. Lawless said having a high school diploma, work experience and real-life skills are a huge factor in this.
“Everyone is rooting for the youth,” she said. “We’re there sometimes to hold their hand but we’re also there to make sure they’re doing the right thing and make sure the right resources are in place.”
She said Highfields has always been on the forefront of change. Ingham Academy and the Pride Evening Reporting program are two examples of how working together has allowed meaningful change to happen in Ingham County.
In the 13 years she has been a judge, she has seen many young adults turn their lives around through Ingham Academy.
She recalled one young woman who had made poor relationship choices and had been self-harming. At Ingham Academy, she discovered her creative side. She began to express herself through art rather than self-harm. Two years ago, Judge Lawless received a Christmas card in the mail from this young woman. She is now happily married and in a much better place.
“It’s exciting when they’re no longer under court jurisdiction and you find they’re doing well,” she said.