Trying kids as adults is wrong approach

Keywords Opinion

Greg Morris’s recent column [12- and 13-year-olds can belong in adult court, March 15], references Indiana Senate Bill 279, which, if passed into law, would expand Indiana’s waiver/transfer law to 12- and 13-year-olds for attempted murder.

Trying and sentencing young children in the adult system is not an age- or developmentally-appropriate, or just response to youth in trouble with the law. This proposed public policy change would be a backward step for a state that is otherwise moving forward with significant reforms that are evidence-based through the national best practice Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative. The Campaign for Youth Justice has recently weighed in with testimony before the General Assembly offering Senate Bill 266, which promotes mental health treatment and early intervention in schools, as a much more appropriate response, and much more likely to have an actual positive, preventative impact in Indiana.

Mr. Morris is factually incorrect that juvenile jurisdiction only lasts until a child is 18 years old. The juvenile justice system is specially equipped to provide services and support to children and families with the goal of rehabilitation, and juvenile jurisdiction can extend to age 21 for children adjudicated under the age of 18. Expanding waiver law to younger children, especially those as young as 12 and 13, even for the most serious crimes—does not deter behavior, does not rehabilitate the child, can cause lifelong physiological and psychological trauma that leads to deeper and deeper adult involvement in justice systems, and finally has grave implications to our notions of fairness and due process, especially given that a child’s fundamental right to be competent to stand trial is severely compromised.

Mr. Morris references the Noblesville West Middle School shooting. This incident was, unquestionably, very tragic for everyone involved, but state public policy should not be based on retribution arising out of a specific incident; rather laws should be grounded in the best interests of public safety and the humane treatment of children. This change would serve neither.

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JauNae Hanger

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