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Effort Under Way to Raise Minimum Age for Misdemeanors in Illinois

Illinois is one of the states leading the charge to raise the age young people face charges in adult court. (
Illinois is one of the states leading the charge to raise the age young people face charges in adult court. (
April 6, 2017

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Illinois is one of the states taking the lead in the effort to raise the minimum age of how young adults are prosecuted for misdemeanor crimes.

Legislation has been proposed to allow 18, 19 and 20-year-olds to have their misdemeanor cases heard within the juvenile justice system, as opposed to adult court.

Rep. Laura Fine (D-Glenview) says brains are still developing at that age and keeping children out of adult jail is in everyone's interest.

"Once they're in the system, that's really going to have a negative impact on the rest of their life,” she points out. “But if we can say, 'OK, you committed this crime,' or, 'You did this thing that was really stupid. What can we teach you about this?'"

Connecticut was the first state to launch the age-reform effort, and since then Illinois, Massachusetts and Vermont also have started considering it.

Lael Chester is a research fellow at Harvard Kennedy School and studies the effects on juveniles who have been incarcerated. She says states that raised the minimum age from 16 to 18 have seen many benefits, and maintains the same would happen if it were increased to 21.

"The adult system is not rehabilitative, it's not individualized,” she stresses. “Emerging adults are lumped in with adults all the way up to the end of life and there's no distinction made between an 18-year-old high school kid and a 35-year-old who's had work experience, a spouse, maybe kids."

A report by the Department of Human Services says moving 17-year-olds from criminal to juvenile courts in Illinois in 2010 resulted in a sharp decline in juvenile crime.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - IL