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New law aims to change juvenile justice system, give alternatives to locking up kids under 12

A new state law is working to change the juvenile justice system to give children more resources and opportunities other than being locked up. It aims to bring alternatives to detaining children and give more uniformity across the state. 

A Youth Justice Oversight Committee has been formed to work out how this law will be put into place. It’s made up of different people all involved in the juvenile justice process, from intake to probation and all things in-between. 

The committee will decide on things like a plan to collect juvenile data and come up with common terms across all the counties in Indiana, because while they were gathering information to draft the law many counties had differing definitions of what a juvenile even was.  

One of the authors of the bill, Representative Wendy McNamara says they want things to be more uniform across the state. 

“They call it justice by geography. Some people might have access to better resources than others and we want to make sure that no matter where you are in the state of Indiana, you’re treated with consistency and the opportunities others would have anywhere else in the state,” said McNamara. 

One of the points in the law is not to detain children under 12 who committed minor, non-violent crimes. So, this committee will work on what resources counties can provide as alternatives for the children and establish a screening process for who qualifies for those alternatives. 

“What we really wanted to get at is making sure the juveniles that need to be there, need to be there. Right? And the ones that don’t provide them with services in their communities or alternatives that will provide them with better outcomes.” 

The committee will also make a plan for following up with kids and families after incarceration. 

“It’ll be game-changing because right now there are no counties in the state that have resources for juveniles,” said McNamara. 

“Sometimes they will sit in front of the jail in the waiting area waiting for mom and dad to come pick them up. There is no follow-up, there is nothing to do for the youth who might commit those crimes in that area.” 

Ultimately the decision of what to do with a child is in the judges’ hands, but this law aims to give more resources. 

The committee is scheduled to present its findings in July of 2023. In the meantime, there is an expectation that judges will start transitioning now towards alternatives to locking children up. 

The next meeting of the committee is scheduled for August 10th. Find out more about the committee here