Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council: Criminal Justice Update: Fall 2022
Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council: Criminal Justice Update: Fall 2022

Indiana lawmakers are weighing options for an improved statewide records system that would make it easier for local law enforcement to share crime statistics and information about offenders.

Members of a bipartisan interim study committee this week also reviewed new criminal justice data and considered testimony about the need to combat a rise in juvenile gun crimes across the state.

Lawmakers will use their discussions to inform bills that could be authored in the upcoming legislative session, which begins in January.

No central, statewide record-keeping

Courtney Curtis, assistant executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, told legislators during a committee meeting on Tuesday that 21 Indiana counties don’t use the same prosecutor case management system for juvenile cases as the other 71 in the state do. That includes Madison, Tippecanoe, and Allen counties — three of the state’s most populated regions.

The discrepancy means local prosecutors do not have the ability to check criminal histories of juveniles outside of their own county. Instead, they’re forced to call officials in other counties to determine if a juvenile has a prior conviction. 

“Of course, this isn’t going to happen. It can’t happen. It’s not feasible,” Curtis said, noting that a statutory stipulation prevents prosecutors from automatically sharing juveniles’ information. A simple legislative fix could solve the issue, she continued.

For law enforcement, there’s also a “legitimate concern for officers” who arrive on scenes without the ability to check for a juvenile’s criminal background, Curtis said.

 Indiana State Police Maj. Rob Simpson (ISP website)

 

“If I get pulled over for speeding, an officer — before he or she approaches my car — does have the ability to determine if I have a prior felony or any other type of conviction,” she said. “But if I am a juvenile, that officer does not have that automatic ability. That’s an unsafe situation for an officer on the scene.”

Indiana State Police Maj. Rob Simpson said law enforcement agencies additionally face record-sharing challenges. Of the more than 600 law enforcement agencies in Indiana, only 229 are submitting aggregate crime data to the state’s uniform crime reporting program.

That’s despite the fact that the General Assembly mandated such reporting in 2017. Simpson said staffing issues — and sometimes “fears” from police chiefs or sheriffs who don’t want to draw attention to rises in crime — keep police departments and other agencies from contributing their data.

Still, although two-thirds of Indiana’s law enforcement offices are deficient, he said most of those that do report data are larger agencies that represent about 80% of the population throughout the state.

“Aggravated assaults, murders and stuff that happens statewide — I cannot provide you those statistics from a state agency,” Simpson said. “It’s a lofty goal getting everyone on board … but if we could ever get to a statewide records management system, that could really help us.”

The necessary software is already in place for local law enforcement to report, Simpson said, adding that the issue continues to be with compliance — something the legislature could address in updates to the law.

Gun violence rising among Hoosier kids

The need for legislative fixes comes amid a battle to stem rising crime across Indiana. 

Curtis said Level 6 filings in the state increased 20% from 2015 to 2021. Murder filings are also up 40.9% since 2015.

She emphasized, too, that juvenile gun crimes remain a top issue.

In 2021, Indiana prosecutors filed 288 cases against juveniles for carrying a handgun without a license. Another 137 such cases were filed in 2022 between January 1 and June 30.

After the GOP-dominated legislature repealed the handgun permitting requirement earlier this year, the charge for juveniles changed to “unlawful carrying of a handgun.” Since July 1 — when the new law took effect — 41 of those cases have been filed in Indiana.

Juvenile cases for dangerous possession of a firearm are also up. So far, 377 cases have been recorded this year by the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council —  up from 235 filings during all of 2021. 

Curtis pointed specifically to Indianapolis, where as of Aug. 24, 12 juveniles have died this year as a result of gun violence. That’s twice as many as during the same time period in 2021, and outpaces the previous five years. 

Part of the solution could come from modifications to probation requirements for juveniles, Curtis said. Current Indiana law makes probation sentences for juveniles indeterminate — meaning kids will not automatically be on probation for their entire sentence.

A juvenile who’s on probation could have a sentence that lasts up to a year, for example. But if their rehabilitation program can be completed in six weeks or two months, then they could be taken off of probation in that time period. 

“The reason for that is because we are in a system where we think that fewer touches with the criminal justice system are helpful,” Curtis said. “But when you’re a child and you’re given services, then greater contact with those services is actually helpful … If we don’t sentence them or provide these programs in the community, then they don’t have the opportunity to avail themselves of them.”

Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville, who chairs the interim corrections committee, said lawmakers in early October will review draft bills that address the various issues raised during the summer and fall months. What those bills seek to do — and whether they actually turn into legislation next year — is still to be determined, however.

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