INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Senate Bill 368, pertaining to juvenile justice, is on its way to the full Senate for a vote. This bill focuses on the automatic expungement of some juvenile records, housing juveniles and the competency to stand trial.
The automatic expungement pertains to those juveniles who committed crimes that are misdemeanors if committed by adults. A judge does have final discretion over whether the record is automatically cleared.
“All young people should have the opportunity that if they made a mistake, were held accountable, did their time for it, that they shouldn’t be punished as an adult for what they did at the age of 12 and 13,” said Brandon Randall, director of engagement at VOICES Corp.
If this bill becomes law, when a child turns 19 or one year after the juvenile court discharges the child, whichever is later, the court will automatically clear the record of certain offenses.
Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings expressed some concerns about automatic expungements, specifically if they involve weapons charges.
“There’s a process for those to be expunged and time constraints, and some cases require approval of the prosecutor or the judge and I don’t see anything wrong with those,” Cummings said. “I don’t have a problem with expungements when people have put enough time between the offense and an honest lifestyle. I don’t think anybody objects to that. But automatic for those kind of potentially violent offenses doesn’t make sense to me.”
This bill also makes it the default for a juvenile charged as an adult awaiting trial or sentencing to be housed in a juvenile facility and not an adult facility. But a judge has the final say.
“Juveniles charged with murder should not be in adult jails,” Cummings said. “They’re not in my community, I don’t think they are in most communities. I think there’s federal law that prohibits that. I hear that it is happening in some areas of our state and that just shouldn’t happen.”
Randall, who works with system-impacted young people, stressed the importance of putting juveniles in juvenile facilities. The Campaign for Youth Justice said young people kept in adult facilities are 34% more likely to return to incarceration than those kept in juvenile facilities.
“When you are in a juvenile facility, you are more than likely going to work with staff who are more competent in that and can connect and relate with young people,” Randall said. “If you’re in the adult system, that does not apply.”
The other main component of SB368 is the competency to stand trial. Competency deals with the alleged offender’s ability to understand the charges against them and the ability to assist in their defense.
If a child is younger than 14 years old or at any time before the disposition gives the court reason to believe they are not competent, the court must order the child to undergo a competency evaluation. The exception is if the child is represented by counsel and waves the competency evaluation.
You can read the amended bill in its entirety at legiscan.com/IN/text/SB0368.