Friday, November 10, 2000

Ohio could jail violent children

House approves proposal that puts age of eligibility as low as 10

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Children as young as 10 who commit violent crimes could be jailed under a bill the House approved Thursday and sent back to the Senate for final consideration.

        The House voted 62-34 to overhaul the state's juvenile justice system, a change recommended after a two-year study by the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission. The proposals shift emphasis away from rehabilitation and toward public safety and vic tims' rights.

        The vote split mainly along party lines, with Republicans saying the bill was a reasonable attempt to deal with violent children. Democrats said it was an overreaction to a nonexistent problem.

        “Caring for, protecting and rehabilitating children are preserved as goals for the juvenile justice system in this bill,” said Rep. Ann Womer Benjamin, an Aurora Republican sponsoring the bill in the House. “Judicial discretion is expanded where possible, and costs are reasonably curtailed. Senate Bill 179 is a focused attempt to deal with real issues.”

        Rep. Peter Lawson Jones, a Shaker Heights Democrat, called the bill a solution in search of a problem.

        “It's a charade of an effort to address a crime problem that is not growing, that in fact has been abated,” he said.

        A child must be at least 12 now to be sentenced to state juvenile detention. A 10-year-old who commits a violent crime can be sent only to a private treatment center.

        The Republican-controlled Senate passed a version of the bill along party lines in March after a long and contentious debate and must now consider changes the House made. Those include requiring the presence of a lawyer for a child. The House also wants a racial impact study done to determine how the law is affecting minorities.

        Gov. Bob Taft did not support the 10-year-old age minimum in his version of the legislation. Asked if he would sign the bill, Mr. Taft said Thursday, “I expect it will pass in some form and be approved.”


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