Should Children Go To DOC For Misdemeanor Acts Alone?

In simple terms, adults who commit misdemeanor acts go to jail and those who commit felony acts go to prison.  That division is not true for children (detention center versus Indiana Department of Correction).  If the child is accused of committing an act that would be a crime — any crime — if committed by an adult, the juvenile court has a wide spectrum of disposition options available, including commitment to the Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC).  (See I.C. 31-37-19)

The main guidance given to juvenile court judges under the law is the following at I.C. 31-37-18-6:

“If consistent with the safety of the community and the best interest of the child, the juvenile court shall enter a dispositional decree that: (1) is: (A) in the least restrictive (most family like) and most appropriate setting available, and (B) close to the parent’s home, consistent with the best interest and special needs of the child; (2) least interferes with family autonomy; (3) is least disruptive to family life; (4) imposes the least restraint on the freedom of the child and the child’s parent, guardian, or custodian; and (5) provides a reasonable opportunity for participation by the child’s parent, guardian, or custodian.”

A look at the IDOC statistics (see Table 17 — Number of Juvenile Offenders by Most Serious Offense) details the most serious offenses for which male and female juveniles have been committed.  There may be additional, less-serious acts for which the child was adjudicated, as reflected by the higher numbers in Table 16.  Some of these acts may be felonies, depending on severity of the act, weight of the drugs, etc., but there is no breakdown in data.  From January-April 2014:

  • 19 children — Battery (usually a misdemeanor, unless it involved certain persons or serious bodily injury)
  • 9 children — Carrying a Handgun Without a License (usually a misdemeanor, unless it occurred on school property or under certain other conditions)
  • 2 child — Dealing in Marijuana, Hashish, or Hash Oil
  • 1 child — Possession of a Knife on School Property
  • 11 children — Resisting Law Enforcement
  • 7 children — Conversion (shoplifting)
  • 7 children — Criminal Mischief (damaging someone’s property)
  • 2 children — Criminal Trespass
  • 11 children — Possession of Marijuana, Hashish, or Hash Oil
  • 1 child — Public Indecency
  • 7 children — Disorderly Conduct
  • 2 children — False Informing
  • 1 child — Operating a Motor Vehicle without a License
  • 1 child — Possession of Paraphernalia
  • 1 child — Refusal to Identify Self

The most recent financial data from the IDOC notes that in the 2012-13 fiscal year, the total operating expenses for the juvenile facilities was $40,309,247 with a total per diem of $238.57 per child per day.

So, the question for Indiana citizens is whether we want children incarcerated in juvenile prison for acts for which an adult could not be sent to prison.  Is the cost of $238.57 per day a cost we are willing to pay to have children who committed misdemeanor acts and status offenses?  Is there a better use of that money in the child’s home community for rehabilitation of the child and the child’s family?

The post Should Children Go To DOC For Misdemeanor Acts Along? was first posted on the Indiana Juvenile Justice Blog.

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