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June 17, 2013

Maureen Hayden: 'Dual sentencing' an option for juveniles tried as adults

INDIANAPOLIS – Monica Foster is a longtime public defender who’s been pushing uphill in the legal system for a long time, so when she says the General Assembly is making progress protecting the rights of the disenfranchised, it’s worth stopping to listen to her.

Foster has praise for a new law set to go into effect July 1 that changes the way the juvenile offenders tried in adult court are punished for their crimes.

Called “dual sentencing,” it allows state court judges to hand down two sentences: One to be served as a juvenile and the other to be served as adult.

Under the law, the second is conditional on the first: If a young offender responds well to the intensive supervision and treatment offered in a state prison’s juvenile unit, a judge can suspend the adult prison sentence when that offender turns 18 and send him or her home – or into community corrections or another alternative short of prison.

Likewise, if that young criminal proves bad to the bone, the judge can keep him or her locked up.

To borrow someone else’s analogy: the idea is to give a young offender just enough rope to pull himself out of a life of crime, or to hang himself and wind up in prison.

Minnesota pioneered the idea almost 20 years ago and most states have followed suit.

“It’s a very well thought out and well reasoned law,” said Foster, Indiana’s chief federal public defender. “Unfortunately we see too little of that anymore.”

Foster can take some credit for making it happen – though she didn’t when I interviewed her about the new law for a recent story I wrote.

It took some hue and cry from her and other veterans of Indiana’s juvenile justice system to get the law passed.

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