Juvenile LWOP discussed by interim study committee

After being involved with the death of a convenience store clerk at age 17, Eric Alexander was arrested and subsequently charged with especially aggravated robbery and first-degree murder.

In order to avoid a sentence of life without the possibility parole, Alexander pled guilty to receive two 25-year sentences. He was released on parole at age 28.

“I’ve been home 17 years and have had time to put my life together,” Alexander told the Indiana Senate Interim Study Committee on Corrections and Criminal Code at a Tuesday gathering discussing juvenile matters.

In April, Indiana enacted juvenile justice reform legislation Senate Enrolled Act 368, championed by justice reform advocates. The Oct. 12 study committee meeting focused on additional youth justice reform issues, including juvenile sentencing to life without parole.

The committee, led by chair Sen. Susan Glick, R-LaGrange, and co-chair Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville, heard hours of testimony from multiple interested parties including the Indiana Public Defender Council, local prosecutors, and the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth.

Alexander now serves as a senior advocate for CFSY, a national nonprofit that leads efforts to ban life without parole and other extreme sentences for children. He told the committee that as someone who spent 10 years of his life behind bars, he would never advocate to open the doors and let every prisoner return to society.

“I will say, put a system of checks and balances in place to catch all of the Eric Alexander’s in the system and restore them to their communities later,” he said.

Preston Shipp, senior policy counsel for CFSY and former appellate prosecutor, also advocated for an age-appropriate form of accountability that focuses on rehabilitation in place of LWOP.

He told the committee that children who are handed LWOP sentences should be given a meaningful opportunity after a term of served years to show that they can come home safely.

“If you get to the point, as I did, that you believe that there’s more to a kid than their worst moments, then it’s incumbent upon us to have policies in place that embody those best values and age appropriate ways of holding kids accountable that leave room for redemption,” Shipp said.

The study committee’s first meeting focused on the topic of assignment of counsel at initial hearings in criminal cases. On Oct. 26 it will discuss costs and fees associated with juvenile justice matters and human trafficking , among other things.

Additional members of the committee include GOP Sens. Mike Bohacek, Aaron Freeman and Jim Tomes; Democratic Sens. Tim Lanane, Karen Tallian and Greg Taylor; GOP Reps. Chris Jeter, Greg Steuerwald and John Young; and Democratic Reps. John Bartlett, Ragen Hatcher and Matt Pierce.

Lay members include Putnam County Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter, Linda Brady of Monroe County probation, Bernice Corley of the Public Defender Council, Amber Finnegan of Jefferson County Court Services and Putnam Circuit Judge Matt Headley.

Meetings from the study committee can be watched on the online.

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