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Lawmakers consider youth penalties

State lawmakers will continue debates this year regarding changes to Ohio’s juvenile code, focusing on stiffer penalties for more violent offenders.

Thursday, September 09, 1999

State lawmakers will continue debates this year regarding changes to Ohio’s juvenile code, focusing on stiffer penalties for more violent offenders.

Although courts cannot comment on changes to sentencing laws for fear of showing a bias, Lawrence County’s juvenile Judge David Payne said the code change is an issue that needs to be reviewed carefully.

"Much of our juvenile law is geared toward and insists upon rehabilitation of children," Payne said. "We do have in existence laws that give more emphasis for victims (stiffer penalties), but when it comes to courts and orders involving alleged delinquents and unruly children, we focus exclusively on that child’s rehabilitation."

And that rehabilitation seems at the heart of Columbus lawmakers’ debates.

This year’s new proposals to deal with serious juvenile crimes would give judges more leeway to consider alternative sentences, even as the proposals shift the traditional focus in juvenile detention away from rehabilitation.

”For the first time the juvenile code speaks to victims’ issues and the rights of victims as well as focusing more on accountability and public safety,” Youth Services Department Director Geno Natalucci-Persichetti said when the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission released its package of reforms last month.

Gov. Bob Taft has also introduced his own package of juvenile justice changes.

The thrust of the proposals is to give juvenile court judges more tools to handle the youths coming through the court system, said Chief Justice Thomas Moyer of the Ohio Supreme Court.

These include giving offenders juvenile and adult sentences, keeping some offenders in juvenile custody to age 25, instead of 21, and requiring judges to transfer an offender to adult court unless there is a good reason not to.

The proposals also beef up penalties for crimes committed with a gun and allow the state to commit children as young as 10 to a youth facility. The minimum age now is 12.

There have been times when offenders did not meet juvenile code guidelines, or when courts would have responded with longer lasting orders if allowed to do that, so there is room for debate, Payne said.

"Technically, when we detain a child, we’re not supposed to be considering issues of the community, but rather issues of the child," Payne said. "That has left some victims’ issues out."

But because the government has given the job of changing laws to the legislative branch, it has decided to consider those issues, while the courts will follow any future guidelines, he said.

"It seems as though something at least will arise for a vote this year, but in exactly what form it will be, I don’t know."

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.