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Experts Rethinking Illinois' Juvenile Court System

A panel of juvenile-justice experts is rethinking Illinois' youth court system. (iStockphoto)
A panel of juvenile-justice experts is rethinking Illinois' youth court system. (iStockphoto)
January 22, 2016

CHICAGO - Illinois once again could become a national leader in juvenile-justice reforms. That's the idea behind a hearing today in Chicago, where experts will be talking about how the state can help keep young adults who break the law from reoffending.

State Rep. Laura Fine, D-Glenview, is holding the hearing along with three other House committee chairs. She said she's focused on finding ways to further reduce the youth prison population in a cost-effective way that does not compromise public safety.

"Let's look at what's worked elsewhere and figure out what can work best here that will be better for our communities and save the taxpayers dollars," she said. "So, this is really the start of the conversation."

With Illinois being home to the first juvenile court in the nation, Fine said, the state again can take the lead in the way the criminal-justice system treats young people.

Some of the ideas being discussed at today's hearing include raising the age of Illinois' juvenile court to 21. Illinois already has upped that age to 18 over the past five years. Still, several researchers and law-enforcement experts are discussing how raising the juvenile court age even further could effect the state going forward.

One of today's speakers is Vincent Schiraldi, a researcher with the Kennedy School's Program in Criminal Justice at Harvard University. He has argued that young adults are more similar to adolescents than fully mature adults, and that most other state systems have taken that into account.

"It's really difficult for a 20-year-old to rent a car, and insurance is very expensive if you buy a car at that age," he said. "You can't drink legally at that age, and, you know, on and on."

Today's hearing is based in part on a report from the Illinois Juvenile Justice Initiative, which showed that about 4,000 young adults were sent to Cook County Jail in 2013 for low-level offenses.

Fine said she eventually will introduce a bill to the state Legislature based on the hearing.

"How do we really address the issue instead of just incarceration," she said, "because this is something that could really be pivotal for so many young lives."

Information about the event is online at repfine.com. The JJI report is at jjustice.org.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - IL