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."
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 the reform."
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 the following:
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.
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 norm.
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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]