Children at 12 Years of Age Must Not Be Tried as Adults

This is in response to Indiana Senate Bill 279

I am so exhausted from how so many of our policy leaders and government officials create laws, make decisions, and ignore research and the implications of that research as we continually perpetuate more of the same trauma and toxic cycles within our communities.

Waiver to adult court for attempted murder. Provides that the juvenile court shall waive jurisdiction if it finds that: (1) the child is charged with an act that would be murder or attempted murder if committed by an adult; (2) there is probable cause to believe that the child has committed the act; and (3) the child was at least 12 years of age when the act charged was allegedly committed; unless it would be in the best interests of the child and of the safety and welfare of the community for the child to remain within the juvenile justice system.

Testimonial and Research to Contest the Passing of Senate Bill 279 / Legislation

The adolescent brain begins entering a stage of extreme vulnerability and fragility around nine to ten years of age. This chaotic development can linger through mid to late twenties and is compromised and critically stagnated by high numbers of adverse childhood experiences. This period of erratic brain development coupled with a significant number of childhood adversities, often produces an adolescent brain that is functioning from a survival brain state, a state of constant fear, anger, turmoil, and violence which is characterized by pain based behaviors, a response to life events that has been in part neurobiologically created by personal , environmental, and life experiences that produce toxic and distorted levels of brain development and functioning.
Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have been identified as a key risk factor associated with a wide range of negative life outcomes, including juvenile delinquency. Research has demonstrated a strong relationship between ACEs, substance use disorders, and severe behavioral problems. When children are exposed to chronic stressful events, their neurodevelopment can be disrupted. As a result, the child’s cognitive functioning or ability to cope with negative or disruptive emotions may be greatly impaired. Over time, and often during adolescence, the child may adopt negative coping mechanisms, such as substance use or self-harm or harm to others. Eventually, these unhealthy coping mechanisms can contribute to disease, disability, and social problems, as well as premature mortality.
Prior research on adverse and traumatic experiences, as well as mental health problems of juvenile justice– involved youth, has revealed higher prevalence rates of adversity and trauma for these youth compared to youth in the general population (Dierkhising et al., 2013). Furthermore, compared to youth in the general population, juvenile justice–involved youth have been found to have a greater likelihood of having experienced multiple forms of trauma (Abram et al., 2004), with one-third reporting exposure to multiple types of trauma each year (Dierkhising et al., 2013). Placement in Child Protective Services and foster care due to parental maltreatment made unique contributions to the risk for delinquency in 99,602 officially delinquent youth, compared to the same number of matched youth in one study (Barrett, Katsiyannis, Zhang, & Zhang, 2013). In the realm of criminology we know that among offenders, experiencing childhood physical abuse and other forms of maltreatment leads to higher rates of self-reported total offending, violent offending, and property offending, even after controlling for prior delinquent behavior (Teague, Mazerolle, Legosz, & Sanderson, 2008). Experiencing parental divorce has also been well documented to have a strong association with delinquency, with meta-analysis on the topic showing moderate effect sizes (Amato, 2001). Even with the increased social acceptability and increased prevalence of divorce in recent decades, the differences in delinquency between youth exposed to parental divorce and those from intact families has not decreased (Amato, 2001; D’Onofrio et al., 2005).
In conclusion, the emotional age of a youth who has experienced significant adverse childhood experiences with cognitive functioning greatly compromised, equates to approximately half the chronological age of that adolescent. To waive to adult court for attempted murder or probable cause, with a child identified at 12 or within the early adolescent years is inhumane and grossly contradicts the research of adverse childhood experiences and brain development. ACE’s and brain development are deeply affected by environmental, community, and generational experiences and trauma cycles. This bill unacceptably and inaccurately contradicts the brain and psychopathology research purporting how we must approach and identify our youth who have committed these unbearable and pain driven crimes. These children must be assessed for the emotional and toxic adversities they have experienced with a community outreach that bridges the gaps of what we know through new neuroscience research and how we have traditionally practiced, imparted and recycled the family to school to prison pipeline with our nation’s and state’s youth. The Indiana Youth Institute recently published the 2019 data on the mental and emotional challenges of our state’s children and the statistics are sobering and eye opening with Indiana scoring higher than the national statistics on many if not most of the at risk indicators from this study/ survey for childhood well-being. When we know better, we can do better.

Dr. Lori Desautels
College of Education
Butler University


Leave a Reply

Verified by MonsterInsights