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New law: Juvenile delinquents will be screened for abuse, neglect

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By Amanda Creech

Kids who are abused and neglected are significantly more likely to be convicted of a crime as a juvenile.

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That’s why a new state law will require that minors in criminal detention are screened to see if they are victims as well.

“After 20 years working with children, I have seen firsthand how their lives are layered with different experiences that affect how they perform in school,” said Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon. “Instead of focusing on one area – criminal acts – this law takes all factors into consideration when a child comes into the judicial system.”

McNamara, an educator, authored House Bill 1196, which Gov. Mike Pence signed into law last month.

She cited statistics reported by the National Institute of Justice that an abused or neglected child has a 59 percent better chance of being arrested as a juvenile and 28 percent better chance as an adult.

HEA 1196 will require intake officers at juvenile delinquency facilities to screen minors to determine whether they are also a “child in need of services,” a term used in cases of abuse, neglect or other home problems.

The preliminary inquiry would include the child’s background, criminal status and school performance. If the minor is determined to be a child in need of services, he or she will be referred to a dual status assessment team and assigned to the appropriate department, which could be the Department of Child Services or the probation department of the court.

Andrew Cullen, vice president of the United Way of Central Indiana, called the law “groundbreaking.” He said it will help give children access to services they need.

“It is a culmination of the good work the General Assembly has been doing over the past several years to make justice about rehabilitation and not retribution,” Cullen said.

McNamara said the law is based on a model that has been recognized nationally for juvenile legislation in the United States.

The model “is really the only one in the nation right now that is going to look at the problem and the behavior behind the action,” McNamara said, rather than just looking at the crime committed.

“You might have a juvenile who goes into a convenient store, robs it and steals milk and is arrested,” McNamara said. “An assessment team will be set up to look into the reasons this juvenile did this. Maybe he ran away from home or maybe he is trying to feed his family. This will treat those (minors) through the justice system as well as through the child services” agency.

Cullen said that’s an important change.

“Particularly with children,” he said, “the criminal justice system should be solely about rehabilitation, and this bill goes a long way to correcting past mistakes in that area.”

HB 1196 will go into effect on July 1.

Amanda Creech is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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