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A big change for smallest criminals

With a law that goes into effect July 1, Indiana joins other states in recognizing adult prisons aren’t designed to house juvenile offenders. The law gives judges authority to determine where young people charged as adults should be placed.

Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon, was author of the new law, which prevents juveniles from automatically being sentenced to an adult prison if convicted in adult court.

The flaw in state law became glaringly apparent when the Kosciusko Circuit Court waived a 12-year-old, Paul Henry Gingerich, into adult court when he was accused of participating in a 2010 murder. Given the option of pleading guilty as an adult or facing trial and a maximum 65-year sentence, Gingerich and his parents chose the plea agreement. He was sentenced to 25 years in adult prison. Despite the judge’s order, the Indiana Department of Correction placed him in juvenile facilities because of his age and small size.

A court of appeals later threw out Gingerich’s plea agreement and ordered a new hearing to determine where he should be tried, but the case made clear that Indiana’s adult correction centers aren’t equipped to handle young people.

The welcome new law recognizes the obvious fact that cases involving children, regardless of the crime’s severity, must be handled with common sense and mercy and that adult prison will inevitably turn a child into a hardened adult offender.