A bill that would lower the age at which juveniles could be sent to the Indiana Department of Correction passed the Indiana Senate last week and now moves to the House.

The bill, originally authored by Senator Erin Houchin, R-Salem, would allow courts to sentence children as young as 12 to the Department of Correction and expands the list of crimes that could send a child to jail to include an attempt to commit murder, rape, kidnapping and armed robbery. The bill also increases the maximum sentence for juveniles to six years.

In testimony before a senate committee, Houchin said this bill, as well as a similar one in the previous legislative session, were proposed on the heels of a shooting at a Noblesville middle school in May 2018. In that incident, a 13-year-old student shot and injured a classmate and a teacher, but could not be charged as an adult for attempted murder.

“Unfortunately in this case, the perpetrator was sentenced to a juvenile facility where he will be released on his 18th birthday with no record, if not sooner,” Houchin said in front of the committee.

Local reaction to the bill is mixed.

St. Joseph County Prosecutor Ken Cotter said he supports the bill and sees it applying only in very rare cases.

“Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time what we need to do is give (juveniles) care and support from the community,” Cotter said. “I just want options to protect our community in those extremely rare cases.”

According to data collected by the state, there were only 11 children in Indiana who were charged with any of the offenses the bill would apply to from 2015 to 2018 while they were 12.

Opponents of the bill, however, say placing juveniles in detention facilities is not effective for the offender’s rehabilitation, even for serious crimes.
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