If asked, most of the public would likely say that all juvenile delinquency hearings and case files are closed to the public — that the cases are confidential. That is not the reality in Indiana for many juvenile delinquency cases.
There are two schools of thought about whether delinquency cases should be confidential. Advocates for an open court system state that the public scrutiny ensures that the system is operating fairly and justly, and avoids long-term misdeeds, such as the Luzerne County, Pennsylvania “kids-for-cash” scandal. Also, proponents of the idea that our kids are increasingly dangerous, often called “juvenile super-predators,” support the public’s right to know about the dangers in their communities. For an overview of the myth of “juvenile super-predator,” see this brief that contains an overview of the research.
Opponents of an open court system focus on the risks of subjecting the child to the public gaze for acts that are often associated with the impulsivity of youth. By opening a child’s record to the public, the child has increased risk of collateral consequences that could impact employment, education, housing, and many other aspects of life.
Currently in Indiana, any juvenile delinquency hearing involving an act that would be a felony if committed by an adult is open to the public, pursuant to IC 31-32-6-3. Most of the court records are also open to the public gaze, pursuant to IC 31-39-2-8. In addition, many groups listed in I.C. 31-39-2 are allowed access to the records of the juvenile court, including confidential records.
There are also set circumstances that will trigger the child’s school being notified that the child is currently involved in the juvenile justice system. If a child is taken into custody by law enforcement and accused of any one of a specified list of acts, including Battery (see I.C. 31-37-4-3(a)), the law enforcement agency must notify the child’s school that the child was taken into custody, and the alleged acts, within forty-eight hours, pursuant to IC 31-37-4-3. Also, if a child is adjudicated for an act that would be one Class A Felony, or one Class B Felony, or one Class C Felony, or two Class D Felonies, if committed by an adult, the court must notify the child’s school of the adjudication within seven days, and of any modification to that court order, pursuant to IC 35-50-8-1.
Finally, if the child receives Medicaid and the court places the child in a secure facility or a juvenile detention facility, the juvenile court must send a copy of the disposition order to the Indiana Division of Family Resources, pursuant to IC 31-37-19-28.