Bill would im­prove ju­ve­nile jus­tice

The Columbus Dispatch - - Letters To The Editor -

As hor­ri­ble as it is to con­sider, some­times chil­dren can make grave er­rors and com­mit ter­ri­ble crimes. Un­der­stand­ably, es­tab­lish­ing rules on how to deal with chil­dren who are ac­cused of com­mit­ting se­ri­ous crimes has been an on­go­ing chal­lenge for our state’s ju­ve­nile-jus­tice sys­tem. How­ever, a bill in­tro­duced in the Ohio Sen­ate of­fers a way for­ward that could pro­duce bet­ter out­comes for youths and for our state.

At is­sue is when and how teens ac­cused of com­mit­ting cer­tain crimes can be bound over to be tried as adults in adult crim­i­nal court. For some youths, this trans­fer to the adult court is, and has been, manda­tory and the judge has no dis­cre­tion to de­ter­mine whether bindover is ap­pro­pri­ate by con­sid­er­ing other fac­tors, like the unique cir­cum­stances of the case, such as if the child was in­flu­enced by an adult, if the child has de­vel­op­men­tal-dis­abil­ity chal­lenges, or if the child is more likely to be re­ha­bil­i­tated in the ju­ve­nile sys­tem.

Our ju­ve­nile-jus­tice sys­tem is fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent than the adult crim­i­nal sys­tem since its pri­mary goal is re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, not pun­ish­ment. Ac­count­abil­ity is meant to be a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tive tool by hold­ing young peo­ple re­spon­si­ble for their ac­tions in age-ap­pro­pri­ate ways. In ad­di­tion, by mak­ing some bindovers manda­tory, th­ese laws ex­plic­itly for­bid ju­ve­nile-court judges from us­ing their ex­pe­ri­ence and in­sight when de­ter­min­ing whether an ac­cused child is more suit­able for ju­ve­nile or adult court. This lim­i­ta­tion fails to rec­og­nize that ju­ve­nile-court judges are specif­i­cally trained to make th­ese de­ci­sions, and are gen­er­ally in the best po­si­tion to ob­jec­tively do so.

The Ohio Supreme Court has wres­tled with manda­tory bindover twice in the last year. Most re­cently, the court de­ter­mined that the Gen­eral As­sem­bly has “ex­clu­sive con­sti­tu­tional author­ity to de­fine the ju­ris­dic­tion of the courts of com­mon pleas,” mean­ing that any change to the bindover rules must come from the leg­is­la­ture.

For­tu­nately, there is a bi­par­ti­san bill pend­ing in the Ohio Sen­ate that could pro­vide a so­lu­tion. Sen­ate Bill 64 would re­place Ohio’s manda­tory-bindover laws with new rules that en­sure ju­ve­nile court judges have dis­cre­tion to make choices based on a child’s in­di­vid­ual sit­u­a­tion and po­ten­tial for re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, as well as other rel­e­vant cir­cum­stances about the case.

For some young peo­ple who are ac­cused of com­mit­ting truly ter­ri­ble crimes, the adult crim­i­nal-jus­tice sys­tem may be the most ap­pro­pri­ate place to hear their case. Oth­ers may be good can­di­dates for re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion in the ju­ve­nile-jus­tice sys­tem, help­ing them grow into lawabid­ing adults. What’s clear is that the ex­perts best suited to as­sess the most ap­pro­pri­ate path for each ac­cused young of­fender are ju­ve­nile­court judges. It’s time we put that de­ci­sion back in their hands with SB 64.

Ohio’s ju­ve­nile-jus­tice sys­tem has sig­nif­i­cantly im­proved in re­cent years, thanks to smart, ev­i­dence­based re­forms cham­pi­oned by Gov. John Ka­sich and many thought­ful mem­bers of the Ohio Gen­eral As­sem­bly. SB 64 is the next cru­cial piece in mak­ing Ohio ju­ve­nile-jus­tice sys­tem a model for the coun­try, and it de­serves pas­sage.

Jim Petro For­mer state au­di­tor, state at­tor­ney gen­eral Tif­fin Hil­liard

Jeanie Sk­aggs

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.