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June 16, 2013

Prison sentence of 12-year-old prompts new law

Law allows trials partly as adults, partly as juveniles.

(Continued)

The new law creates another option called “dual sentencing,” that essentially allows a young criminal to be sentenced as both a juvenile and an adult.

It allows a judge to send a juvenile convicted as an adult into a state-run juvenile detention center for intensive supervision and treatment until the offender turns 18. Then, at 18, that offender’s adult prison sentence is re-assessed by a judge who has several options: Send the offender on to prison to serve the criminal sentence, send the offender into a community-based corrections program to transition back into society, or send the offender back home free.

Andrew Cullen, legislative liaison for the Indiana Public Defender Council, said the law gives judges a new level of discretion in juvenile matters.

“The criminal justice system should never, ever treat a child like it treats an adult,” Cullen said. “This law recognizes that.”

Until the new law was passed, Indiana was only one of four states that didn’t have some version of dual sentencing, also called blended sentencing, for juveniles convicted of serious crimes.

Republican state Rep. Wendy McNamara, an Evansville school administrator who carried the legislation in the Indiana House, said the new law still provides punishment but recognizes that juveniles need to be treated differently than adult offenders.

“We’re not letting these kids off the hook,” McNamara said. “But the law also says we’re not going to lock them up and throw away the key.”

McNamara and other supporters of the new law were persuaded in part by DOC numbers that show most juveniles sent to the state’s prisons are out within five years.

“They’re kids growing up in prison, being exposed to and influenced by adults who’ve committed terrible and violent crimes,” Dempsey said. “The odds of them coming back out a better person aren’t good.”

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