A state law enacted in 2012 directed the commission to conduct the
study and make recommendations to ensure the effective treatment and
supervision of youth who are adjudicated delinquent — found guilty —
for a sex offense.
The 150-page report, "Improving Illinois' Response to Sexual
Offenses Committed by Youth," is based on the commission's analysis
of state and national laws; its review of extensive research on the
topic; and interviews with practitioners who work with victims of
sexual abuse, youth who have offended and the families affected by
youth sexual offending. The commission also performed a review of
files of youth adjudicated delinquent for sex offenses to understand
and document current responses to youth who have committed sex
"The increased availability of high-quality, reliable,
youth-specific research findings presents an exceptional opportunity
to align law and practice with expert consensus about best practices
for responding to youth sex offenses," the report states. "Most
importantly, research over the last few decades has conclusively
established that youth are highly amenable to treatment and highly
unlikely to sexually reoffend."
"Research also indicates that strategies used with adults —
principally sex offender registries and residency/employment
restrictions — are not only unnecessary as applied to youth, but
also counterproductive, as they often jeopardize victim
confidentiality and can interfere with youth rehabilitation to an
extent that undermines the long-term safety and well-being of our
communities," according to the report.
"The General Assembly called for this study because legislators
recognized that discussions of this topic often are charged with
emotion but lack solid information about young people committing
sexual offenses and about proven methods of treatment and
supervision of these youth," said George W. Timberlake, who chairs
the commission and is a retired chief judge of the 2nd Judicial
Circuit. "Without minimizing the harm experienced by victims of
sexual offending, our research makes clear that most youth sexual
offending has roots in developmental issues such as immaturity,
developmental delays, deficits in social skills and difficulties
coping with prior sexual abuse."
Overview of findings
Sexual offending by youth can encompass a wide range of
behaviors, including inappropriate exposure or masturbation,
touching or fondling, or acts of sexual penetration. The number of
youth arrested for sexually offending in Illinois is small and
appears to be declining. Only 232 youth in Illinois were arrested
for a sexual offense in 2010, down from 434 in 2004. Youth detained
or incarcerated for sex offenses are a very small percentage of
youth in county detention centers and state juvenile prisons.
The vast majority of these youth have not acted in response to a
deviant sexual arousal or a focused intent to harm others, which are
considered key risk factors for future sexual offending. Instead,
most youth sexual offending has roots in developmental issues such
as immaturity, developmental delays, deficits in social skills and
difficulties coping with prior sexual abuse. Research on adolescent
brain development shows that youth are still gaining the capacity to
make decisions, control impulses, make moral judgments, consider
future consequences, and react to positive and negative feedback.
Youth who sexually offend are very unlikely to become adult
sexual offenders. Most youth sexual offending involves a family
member or a person known to the youth and is not predatory.
Treatment does work, and different types of interventions have been
found to be effective in changing the harmful behavior of youth who
sexually offend. The vast majority of these youth do not repeat
their harmful conduct.
Regardless of their individual circumstances, risks, needs or
strengths, youth adjudicated delinquent for a sexual offense are
subject to a complex and expanding set of requirements and
restrictions, which may include where they can live, what kind of
job they can perform and whether they can one day attend their own
children's extracurricular school events. These carry lasting
negative consequences for the offending youth, their families and —
in some cases — victims of abuse. There is no persuasive evidence
that placing youth on sex offender registries prevents reoffending,
but the registry requirements can undermine the long-term well-being
of victims, families, youth and communities.
As of Dec. 4, 2013, there were 2,553 individuals on the Illinois
Sex Offender Registry as a result of being adjudicated delinquent
for a sex offense. Of those, 1,783, or 70 percent, must register for
life, while the other 769, or 30 percent, are required to register
for 10 years. The number of individuals on the Illinois Sex Offender
Registry as result of being adjudicated delinquent for a sexual
offense as a juvenile has increased 28 percent since 2008. Although
arrests during the study period fell by half, the number on the
registry increased because of the high proportion of youth required
to register for life.
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Illinois should develop and implement professional best-practice
standards and provide current, objective and evidence-informed
training for professionals who work with youth offenders and victims
of sexual abuse.
Leaders of the
state's courts, law enforcement training and state youth prisons
should establish best-practice standards for professionals
intervening with sexually offending youth and victims and help
ensure the judges, police, lawyers, counselors and others in
contact with these youth receive training to meet those
To assist in these
efforts, the commission will support the development and
delivery of high-quality, evidence-based training and
professional development to practitioners.
Illinois should equip courts and communities to intervene
effectively with individualized, community-based, family-focused
services and supervision.
Although state law
requires juvenile sex offenders to be evaluated for treatment
needs and risk of reoffending, assessment protocols for youth
vary widely across the state. Illinois should identify
acceptable juvenile assessment tools, use them to evaluate youth
and create individualized case plans to assist youth, and
establish qualifications for treatment and service providers.
Keeping youth in
their homes whenever possible and equipping youth and parents to
prevent sexual misconduct bolsters community safety more
effectively than punitive and incarceration-based strategies. To
take full advantage of the positive outcomes offered by
community-based supervision and services, probation officers
should be active participants in the assessment and case
In addition, the
Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts should provide
comprehensive and current judicial education resources to assist
judges in using assessments and evaluations to develop
appropriate supervision and service plans for each youth.
people who commit sex offenses in state prisons should be the
last resort. Young sex offenders committed to state prisons
receive inadequate education, mental health services and other
specialized services to prepare them for a successful return
home. The commission recommends that the Illinois Department of
Juvenile Justice expedite efforts to address serious deficits in
caring for youth in its custody.
For the small
proportion of youth who present possible serious and persistent
risk of sexual offending, high-quality, intensive and
specialized treatment offers the best options to reduce that
risk, prevent future offending and protect public safety. Every
court should be able to access these treatment options.
Prisoner Review Board should develop and apply
evidence-informed, youth-appropriate standards when making
release decisions, developing parole requirements and making
parole discharge decisions about youth committed to the Illinois
Department of Juvenile Justice for sexual offenses.
Illinois should remove young people from the state's
counterproductive sex offender registry and end the application of
categorical restrictions and collateral consequences.
There is no persuasive evidence that subjecting youth to
registries improves public safety or reduces risks of future
offending. The research does not indicate that registries repair
harm to victims.
Illinois is one of only 20 states placing juveniles adjudicated
delinquent on sex offender registries, regardless of the risk of
reoffending, and Illinois is one of only nine states not excluding
the youngest juveniles from broad registry requirements. In the rest
of the country, 19 other states require registry for some juveniles
but give courts some flexibility to determine which juveniles must
register, and 11 states and the District of Columbia do not register
juveniles unless they have been tried and convicted as adults.
The commission's full report is available at
Illinois Juvenile Justice
Commission file received from the
Illinois Office of Communication and Information]