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Indiana Bill Creates Path Out for Youth

April 25, 2016
Zoe Schein

Indiana recently passed a bill into law (S.B. 160) that creates a “reverse transfer” mechanism for adult courts to return youth charged as adults under Indiana’s direct file statute to the youth justice system. While not automatic, this change makes it possible for youth charged as adults to make their way out of the adult system, where young people are not only denied crucial rehabilitative services, but are also put at greater risk of violence, abuse, and mental illness.   

“When a young person is charged with a direct-file offense as well as other offenses, but the direct-file charges are dismissed or acquitted, S.B. 160 allows the adult court to make the decision to transfer that child back to the juvenile court for adjudication and disposition,” said JauNae Hanger, President of the Children’s Policy and Law Initiative of Indiana (CPLI), an NJJN member.  “There was no way to do that before. This will help promote fundamental fairness, and it will discourage over-zealous prosecutors from over-charging young people. This bill at least allows the court to take a look at the facts of the case before disposing of the case.”

“The adult system is designed to be just that – a system for adults. When youth are placed in that system, in addition to the added risks for youth, a lot of age-appropriate services are just not available--education, life skill development, all of that. It’s not an appropriate place for young people,” Hanger said.

CPLI has been working on issues surrounding direct file for several years – particularly through their Decriminalization of Youth Work Group. “We have identified direct file reform as a central issue for several years,” said Hanger, “and our partners through the work group—the Marion County Public Defender Agency and the Indiana Public Defender Council in particular, helped to take the lead on this issue, with our support, once it got to the legislature. It was a joint effort between us and some key organizations – we pulled in our stakeholders and provided testimony, activating our network to make sure legislators were contacted.”

“There’s more work to be done on the direct file issue,” Hanger said. “Last year we passed some legislation that required data to be collected, and we’re now trying to make sense of that data – which will help us take a step back and make a smart decision on how to move forward on the issues of direct file and transfer.”

S.B. 160 was enacted on March 21, 2016, and will go into effect on July 1, 2016. 

Photo credit: Flickr user Ann Larie Valentine

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