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Indiana Eviction Justice Network's new website aims to add more monitors to eviction courts

A piece of paper is tucked between a doorknob and doorjam. It reads: 30 Day Notice to Pay or Quit.
Lauren Chapman
/
IPB News
The Indiana Eviction Justice Network began as a group of teams based in religious congregations in central Indiana that sent people to eviction courts to monitor what happened there.

The Indiana Eviction Justice Network has launched a website that it hopes will help its court watching program spread to more communities across the state.

The network began as a group of teams based in religious congregations in central Indiana that sent people to eviction courts to monitor what happened there.

Rabbi Aaron Spiegel said those court monitors help increase transparency and have impacted the process.

“My favorite example is one of the judges who regularly would give people 72 hours to vacate their homes is now giving five days,” Spiegel said.

The network’s new website helps people learn about the court watching program and connects them with training and resources.

“The tool that we created now gives the court watchers questions per case that they … check boxes and then they’re going back after they court watch and entering the data into the site,” Spiegel said.

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Questions include whether children were present, whether the tenant was represented by a lawyer, and whether tenants were allowed to speak in court.

Spiegel said the Indiana court system gathers high-level, aggregate information about evictions, but does not have data about what actually goes in the courtroom.

He said the data gathered by court watchers backs up what anecdotal evidence was telling them.

“Tenants rarely, if ever, have any legal representation,” Spiegel said. “It’s far and away overrepresented by women of color.”

Spiegel said there are currently about 50 court watchers. And he said the biggest problem is burnout.

“It’s really hard to do this work,” Spiegel said. “It’s hard to sit in a courtroom for two or three hours and watch people be abused.”

Spiegel said the existing congregation-based teams have support systems in place, including group meetings. He said the network is exploring support for new court watchers brought on board through the website, who likely won’t work in teams.

Brandon is our Statehouse bureau chief. Contact him at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

Brandon Smith has covered the Statehouse for Indiana Public Broadcasting for more than a decade, spanning three governors and a dozen legislative sessions. He's also the host of Indiana Week in Review, a weekly political and policy discussion program seen and heard across the state. He previously worked at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri and WSPY in Plano, Illinois. His first job in radio was in another state capitol - Jefferson City, Missouri - as a reporter for three stations around the Show-Me State.