Legislative study committee hears juvenile offender concerns

Numerous stakeholders offered input and answers Thursday during a legislative committee meeting addressing laws and policies concerning the adjudication and rehabilitation of juvenile offenders.

The Interim Study Committee on Courts and the Judiciary — consisting of Indiana legislators, judges and justices — spent more than four hours hearing testimony from various groups regarding juvenile offenders. A request was made earlier this year by state senators who expressed concerns that the numerous laws and policies regulating the state’s juvenile justice system were overwhelming.

Magistrate Judge Deborah Domine, of the Indiana Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, spoke to the need for a juvenile competency statute to define competency based on a child’s status.

“There is no clear pathway to address competency in children, and yet our courts have said a child has the right to have competency considered. It can’t be a competency system like the adult system, because I would argue there is no child who is competent on the same level as an adult,” Domine said.

Joel Wieneke of the Indiana Public Defender Council said a comprehensive need is reducing the amount of court time spent on juvenile offense cases. One way to reduce it, he said, would be to dial back the length of probation terms.

“There’s no magic wand for any of these problems. But there’s a lot of things that we need to look at and try to figure out how to better address the system,” he said.

Tracy Fitz, juvenile resource prosecutor with the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, told the committee that judges and prosecutors need resources and time to effectively deal with juveniles who commit serious and violent offenses.

“We need the tools to work with those cases,” she said. “To make sure they are receiving the care, treatment and rehabilitation they need. Likewise, tools are needed to ensure the public’s safety moving forward.”

The next committee meeting will be held on Oct. 17 and can be viewed here.

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