Study recommends extending juvenile court jurisdiction to include
17-year-olds charged with felony offenses
Recommendation: To promote a juvenile justice system focused on
public safety, youth rehabilitation, fairness and fiscal
responsibility, Illinois should immediately adopt legislation
expanding the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to include
17-year-olds charged with felonies.
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[February 27, 2013]
SPRINGFIELD -- After examining
the effects of a 2010 state law that places 17-year-olds in juvenile
courts for misdemeanor charges but in adult criminal court for
felony charges, the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission has issued
a report recommending an end to the practice in the interest of
fairness and public safety.
"The number of states that routinely treat 17-year-olds as adults is dwindling,
since states are trending toward making 18 the default age of adult criminal
responsibility," according to the commission report issued Tuesday. "Only 11
other states use an age under 18 as the default age of adulthood for criminal
charges. The age of majority for federal prosecutions, like many other federal
programs, is also 18."
Under the commission's recommendations, 17-year-olds
would remain eligible for transfer to adult court for specific serious offenses
as detailed in the state's transfer laws.
"A legislative compromise led to the decision of the General Assembly to put
17-year-olds with misdemeanor charges in the juvenile system and those with
felony charges in the adult criminal court," said George W. Timberlake, who is
chair of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission and retired chief judge of the
2nd Judicial Circuit. "Before the law changed in 2010, anyone over the age of 16
was subject to the adult system, which is far less rehabilitative and carries an
adult criminal record. The compromise was better than leaving all 17-year-olds
in the adult system, and now that the research demonstrates the system can
manage the addition of 17-year-olds charged with felonies, it's time to complete
When the compromise was debated, some expressed concerns about the effects of
moving all 17-year-old misdemeanants into the juvenile system, and the
legislation directed that a study be done of the switch, with recommendations to
be made regarding moving all 17-year-olds into the juvenile justice system.
The commission's study concluded that "none of the predicted negative
consequences on the juvenile court system have occurred" due to the inclusion of
17-year-old misdemeanants in the juvenile justice system. The findings include
Due to a sharp decline in
juvenile crime, there are currently fewer juvenile arrests after including
17-year-old misdemeanants than when the General Assembly began debating the
change in 2008.
County juvenile detention
centers and state juvenile incarceration facilities were not overrun, as
some had feared. Instead, one detention center and two state incarceration
facilities have been closed, and excess capacity is still the statewide
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juvenile policy briefs have now offered new insight into the
potential for adolescent offenders to grow and change -- and
have warned of serious negative public safety consequences of
sending minors through an adult criminal system.
Instead of drawing a wise, safe or
clear distinction between minor and serious offenses, the law
splitting 17-year-olds between two court systems caused
confusion, and jurisdictional questions still regularly arise
when 17-year-olds are arrested.
A new federal law introduced another reason for placing all
17-year-olds in the juvenile system. The commission report also
warned that the new federal Prison Rape Elimination Act requires all
offenders under 18, even those in the criminal system, to be housed
separately from adults in all lockups, jails, detention centers and
prisons. Noncompliance can result in a 5 percent penalty on several
federal formula funds and block grants, which support state and
local law enforcement agencies throughout Illinois.
"The operational impact of raising the age for approximately
4,000 17-year-olds arrested for felony offenses will not crash the
system," according to the commission report. "In fact, most
practitioners interviewed for this report believe the change will
relieve some administrative burdens inherent in a ‘bifurcated
system' in which some 17-year-olds are handled as adults and others
are considered juveniles."
The commission's full report is available at
Illinois Juvenile Justice
Commission file received from the
Illinois Office of Communication and Information]