Juvenile justice reform bill heads to House with bipartisan support

The Indiana Senate passed a bill Wednesday that could save the state nearly $1 million in federal funding by prohibiting juveniles charged with crimes from being held in adult jails.

Senate Bill 368, authored by Ogden Dunes Democrat Sen. Karen Tallian, prevailed on third reading, getting bipartisan support in a 46-1 vote. The bill now moves to the House, where Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville, has signed on as the sponsor.

“Criminal justice reform is a priority for our caucus this session and for me personally. I’m very happy to see this bill advancing,” Tallian said in a statement. “SB 368 will provide much needed reform in the justice system for the most vulnerable and impressionable in our society — our juveniles.”

The bill includes three sections that advocates for juvenile justice reform call “commonsense policies.”

In particular, the bill prohibits individuals under 18 years of age from being held pretrial with adult inmates. Courts will have discretion to place a minor in an adult facility, but when doing so, judges must consider such factors as the juvenile’s age, maturity, and mental status as well as the nature of the offense and the ability of the facility to meet needs of the young person.

Also, if a juvenile is housed in an adult jail, the court must review placement after 180 days.

Indiana’s current practice of holding young Hoosier with adults while they are awaiting trial puts the state out of compliance with the 2018 Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. Continued failure to adhere to the Act’s mandates could put Indiana at risk of losing $800,000 in federal funding each year.

“We strongly support SB 368, because it will make our justice system more fair and developmentally appropriate for children,” said JauNae Hanger, president of the Children’s Policy and Law Initiative of Indiana. “This legislation consists of commonsense policies that  provide protection for children from dangerous and overly punitive and harsh practices in our justice system … .”

In addition, SB 368 includes provisions regarding juvenile competency. If the court determines the minor is not competent, the judge may order the child to participate in services that are provided by “a qualified competency attainment services provider” in the “least restrictive setting.”

Also, the bill requires the automatic expungement of a delinquency adjudication when the individual reaches 19 years of age.

Hanger said the competency section in SB 368 helps “ensure that … children with mental illness, or disabilities or who are just too young, do not enter the juvenile justice system in order to access services.” Also, she said the expungement provision will make sure “the collateral consequences due to a misdemeanor juvenile record do not follow children, placing barriers to education, employment, joining the military, housing and other essential aspects of life.”

In the Senate, Sen. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange, is the second author of SB 368. Sens. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, and Jim Buck, R-Kokomo, also have joined as co-authors.

As the bill heads to the House, Republican Rep. Greg Steuerwald of Avon has joined Democratic representatives Matt Pierce of Bloomington and Ragen Hatcher of Gary as co-sponsors.

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