The Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence opposes Senate Bill 449, which allows thirteen-year-old children to be waived to adult court for attempted murder and adds “attempted” offenses to the direct file statute. The bill has passed out of Committee with amendments and is expected to be heard by the full Senate in the coming week.
We believe that all individuals, no matter their age, should be accountable for their actions. We also know that we cannot just throw people away when they do something wrong. Accountability without compassion only continues the cycle of violence, making all Hoosiers less safe. If any population is worthy of a compassionate, restorative and transformative approach to justice, it should be our youth.
Youth are not born violent. A youth’s likelihood to perpetrate violence increases when they are not provided safety, stability, and nurturance from adults. Victimization, exposure to violence and conflicts within the family, parental neglect, diminished economic opportunities, unaddressed mental illnesses and access to firearms are examples of issues that increase a youth’s vulnerability. Being subjected to adverse experiences and various risk factors creates suffering which the adult justice system is unable to offset; inevitably increasing trauma. Research confirms that higher Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) scores have a direct correlation to long-term consequences for an individual, including increased likelihood of substance abuse, mental illness, poor work performance, intimate partner violence, and perpetration of sexual violence as an adult.
Harsher sentencing does not reduce the likelihood an individual will commit more crime in the future – in fact, it does the opposite. According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency and Prevention, youth that are placed in the adult criminal justice systems are more likely to re-offend, offend more frequently and at higher rates. Some studies show that youth that are transferred to adult jurisdictions also show as much as a 34 percent more likely of being rearrested for violent offenses. Statistically, a large percentage of the violence perpetrated will occur in interpersonal and domestic relationships. Adding “attempting” offenses to the direct file statute and waiving 13-year-old children to adult court will not benefit Indiana’s children nor will it increase public safety. It will only increase the burden of costs to Indiana taxpayers to support the needs of the criminal justice system.
The adult justice system is ill-equipped to provide youth with the appropriate considerations and accommodations. A Research Network study shows that youth between the ages of 11 and 13, lack legal competency as a defendant and are less able to accurately evaluate risks and understand long-term consequences. Younger juveniles were more inclined to make decisions that aligned with what they thought authority figures wanted, even if that meant confessing or agreeing to a plea bargain.
We know that some victims will want a severe criminal justice response, but in our interviews with domestic violence survivors from across the state, the great majority of them did not want that kind of consequence for offenders because they didn’t think that it was helpful. Seventy-four percent of the survivors that we interviewed said that they didn’t think that the criminal justice response increased their safety and that the system was ill-equipped to help offenders change. Though we were not asking specifically about juvenile offenders, we believe that if those survivors feel that way about the people who caused them personal harm, it is reasonable to assume that these survivors would extend the same measure of grace and hope for rehabilitation to children.
ICADV calls on all members of the Indiana General Assembly to reject SB 449. It will not make Hoosiers safer.
According to the CDC, increasing protective factors and ensuring that youth have safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments are fundamentals to healthy development of long-term physical, emotional, social, behavioral and intellectual capacity. Thus, it decreases risk factors that enable violent or criminal behavior. Juvenile justice trial proceedings center around the intellectual and social-emotional development of youth.
We urge you to contact your State Senator about this issue. Children should remain in the jurisdiction of the juvenile justice system for their own wellbeing, and the wellbeing of society.