How Young Is Too Young For Delinquency Court?

Indiana does not have a minimum age for juvenile court jurisdiction when a child is accused of a delinquent act.  For many years, there was an unwritten “rule” that followed the Indiana Department of Correction wardship statute that delinquency court was used primarily for children between the ages of twelve and eighteen.  Those who committed acts when seven or eight years old were often referred to the juvenile court as CHINS cases under the premise that a child that young was put in a situation where he/she could get into trouble because of a lack of supervision or bad decisions by the parents.

Today around the state, children as young as six are being arrested by law enforcement and sent to detention centers, which are not equipped to handle very young children.  There are a myriad of issues, including that these children may need to be kept segregated from larger children for safety reasons, the small children’s wrists may be too small for handcuffs, and they have educational needs that are different than the typical middle and high school students.

The American Bar Association, Criminal Justice Section, Juvenile Justice Committee publishes a report on the state of criminal justice across the country, which includes a chapter on juvenile justice issues, available here: Young Children in JD Court.  In 2012, it highlighted the issue of involving very young children in delinquency court and the need for legislative reform.

The Indiana Commission on Improving the Status of Children is newly created by the General Assembly, and will, hopefully, consider this issue as it begins meeting later this summer.  Justice Rush has agreed to chair the commission and has reached out to the juvenile court judges through the Indiana Judicial Center and the named commission members to gather ideas for the Commission’s agenda in 2013.


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