Today, four men showed up at the Statehouse and asked members of the Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee to pass Senate Bill 368. All four presented powerful testimonies detailing the importance of several key topics noted in the bill including automatically expunging non-violent youth records, ending the practice of detaining young people in adult jails pre-trial, and ensuring there is juvenile competency to stand trial requirements in our state.
READ THEIR TESTIMONIES
My name is Dontia Dyson and I am here today to say that I want Senate Bill 368 to pass because it’s important to me. We need to keep kids from falling through the cracks of this system and there are a lot of cracks holding kids down for life.
First, I am glad this bill makes sure kids aren’t placed in adult facilities. Having been in one, I know it is unsafe. When I was 18, I went to Marion County jail. They put me in the most dangerous block even though I was there for disorderly conduct. Even for an 18-year-old—it was a major shock. I remember there was not a lot of supervision. There were people from everywhere, not just my peers. I was in a situation with some real deal criminals and remember being a little scared for my life. A lot of the people around me were way older than me and three times as big. I can’t imagine taking a kid as young as 12 and throwing them into the lion’s den like that.
I am strongly against charging a kid as an adult or carrying a kid’s mistake into adulthood and making them still pay for it. That’s why I am also happy this bill would automatically expunge juvenile records. Some of these kids have hard lives. Some kids need a way out --and keeping that record—keeps them in a place where they will always have a hard life. It does not make sense to me. Kids have a future to secure and you can’t secure your future when you have your past holding you down. There are no second chances with this system.
Last, I think the fact that we don’t have any competency to stand trial requirements for kids is a giant problem. If a kid has to go to a judge or face trial without the real help they need—the system failed that kid.
I have sons coming up and daughters coming up—and I want them to have a chance. I don’t want to fear if they ever make a mistake that their lives will be over. I don’t want their first mistake to be their last mistake and while I hope they don’t make them—I want this system to improve for all the kids who will. No kid should be held back by a system that’s original purpose was to rehabilitate them. Please, pass Senate Bill 368.
My name is London Rome and I am here today because I strongly believe Senate Bill 368 should pass. Too often, we wait to pass laws and we wait to act on anything unless it personally touches our lives, but injustices are wrong --even if we have not personally experienced it.
I’m personally saddened to think there are children in Indiana who are being held in adult jails. I guarantee if anyone’s child in this entire room got in trouble—not one would want their child in an adult facility. Housed with adults, kids are in danger and it defeats the whole purpose of knowing that kids can be rehabilitated. We shouldn’t be opening the door for Indiana kids who made mistakes to experience physical and verbal abuse, trauma, and a lifetime of the effects. That is not ok.
Also, not ok is sentencing a child to life without parole. I realize this is no longer included in the bill, but can you imagine being a child that goes to jail for the rest of your life? To me, this is the equivalent of killing someone – the practice of stripping a child of any hope to travel, make their parents proud, fall in love, have their own children, make a life, or redeem themselves. Nobody gives us the right to do that—which is likely why the U.S. is the only country in the world that has this practice. It’s simply inhumane.
Last, I truly can’t understand why children’s non-violent youth records aren’t automatically expunged. Kids don’t deserve to have their records holding them hostage into their adult years.
I hope that you read this bill and think about your child or a child you know. I hope you’ll use your positions of power to improve our youth justice system. Authority is a mixture of dominance and partnership. Today, I am talking to you as a partner, to consider a perspective you may not otherwise.
When we look at children who have made mistakes, we need to look at the whole child and figure out what the real problem is so they can have another chance. Isn’t that supposed to be the purpose of our juvenile system? Please pass Senate Bill 368, please do the right thing for Indiana children.
My name is Harold Sanders and I am here today because I strongly believe Senate Bill 368 should be passed. When I was 16, I was arrested on my way to my basketball game. I was in a car that I learned was stolen after I got in it, although I had not stolen the car. I was arrested and charged with motor vehicle theft along with five other people, including my little brother.
Some of us were taken to the juvenile center while others were taken to Marion County jail. Looking back, I realize that I could have been tried as an adult. One of the kids in the car with me actually was. There was also a Hispanic kid in the car that couldn’t produce an ID when we were pulled over. He was taken to Marion County Jail and I never saw him again. I believe he was deported. I could have had outrageous fines and fees. I could have a record that followed me for the rest of my life.
My life could have been destroyed, but at that time, and because of God's mercy, I was fortunate enough to have someone in my life who was an attorney. Because of his help we were able to negotiate a plea that stated if I stayed out of trouble for three years, my record would be expunged. In the state of Indiana, having your juvenile record expunged isn’t a given, though Senate Bill 368 would ensure it for those who have not committed violent acts.
Today, I’m a proud business owner. I help contribute to our community and I am blessed to have a life filled with opportunity and hope. Still, I cannot ignore that our youth justice system is broken. There does come a point where one may ask what are the intentions or primary goals of the youth justice system? Is it said that the intentions are to rehabilitate, help develop skills, address needs whether treatment or counseling and successfully reintegrate them back into the community. I do not believe that we can fully and successfully accomplish this while allowing minors who do not fully understand what’s going stand trial.
Records shouldn’t be allowed to follow kids for the rest of their lives. And kids shouldn’t be held in adult jails where they are exposed, unaccompanied, and vulnerable. I believe Senate Bill 368 rights these wrongs and more, specifically for children who are forced to rely on public defenders, because they cannot afford an attorney.
There is a reason laws are in place to help us identify the difference between a minor and an adult. Many kids make choices they may not make as an adult. The choices I made then are not the same choices I would make today. Fortunately, I was given the opportunity to prove that. I believe all kids should be given the same opportunity.
Please, pass Senate Bill 368 and ensure that kids are not held back for the rest of their life over mistakes they made before they fully understood the immutable consequences it would have on their future.
My name is Michael Smith and I am here today to ask you to pass Senate Bill 368. I had to get permission from my case manager to be here, but I did because I felt it was important for you to hear from someone who has experienced our justice system.
Our current juvenile justice system has a lot of flaws. When I learned my minor record wouldn’t be expunged, it felt like a shadow following me. I didn’t feel like I had control of my future and I made another mistake a week before my juvenile case was set to end. I don’t want to see kids in this situation and believe youth records should be automatically expunged.
Because I got into trouble again, I have since spent some time in an adult facility and it is not a good environment for a kid. I was almost waived into adult court when I got my juvenile case and knowing what it is like now, I am glad that I wasn’t. Children’s minds aren’t even fully developed, and I can see how it would cause trauma. When I was in there, there were a lot bigger guys, more aggressive guys, and fights. Meals aren’t healthy and hygiene isn’t always good. Kids just don’t belong there. Passing this bill would mean kids don’t have to go through that.
I want you to know that change is possible at any age, but especially for youth. I am still changing. I have dreams and goals and am actively working to better my life. We shouldn’t be sending the message that kids are not redeemable, because I believe every kid is.
I feel guilty for my past mistakes, but I AM doing my best to work through them and improve. Kids can go back and get their degrees, they can become positive for our communities if we make sure the system is set up to allow it. I think this bill is a really good step to making that happen. Please pass Senate Bill 368.