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Bill Would Raise Age that Kids Go to Adult Court

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Illinois automatically sends 18-year-old defendants to adult court. (www.icjia.state.il.us)
Illinois automatically sends 18-year-old defendants to adult court. (www.icjia.state.il.us)
 By Veronica Carter, Public News Service - IL, Contact
February 26, 2018

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Legislation aimed at keeping juveniles on the right track is being discussed by Illinois lawmakers.

Rep. Laura Fine, D-Glenview, introduced HB 4581 this month. It would gradually bump the age that young offenders charged with misdemeanors are sent to adult court from 18 to 21, if the court decides the case does not belong in juvenile court.

Betsy Clarke, president of the Juvenile Justice Initiative, said adult court can only jail and punish, but juvenile judges can give alternatives to young people who have gotten in trouble. For example, they can steer them towards getting a G.E.D or job training, or place them with a mentor.

"You can really look holistically at what the issues are that are causing the young person to come into conflict with the law, and then address those underlying issues,” Clarke said.

She said the goal is to make sure that punishments for young people who make mistakes don't make things worse rather than better. The bill has been assigned to committee for study and will be heard in the next couple of weeks.

Lael Chester, director of the Emerging Adults Justice Project at Columbia University Justice Lab, said much like small children learn to walk or are potty trained at different ages, young people mature at different rates as well. She said they can learn from their mistakes, and when they do, society benefits.

"There's no magic birthday suddenly transforming you from a child to an adult,” Chester said. “Young people are going from being completely dependent to being independent. And they're going from being impulsive, very peer driven, to being very thoughtful and planning for the future."

Clarke said recent discussions about raising the age to purchase weapons or tobacco to 21 is proof that young people don't mature automatically at 18. She said it's in society's interest to get young offenders back on track.

"This age group receives a lot of second and third and fourth chances to make mistakes,” Clarke said. “We must invest in these young people. Otherwise, we will be paying - as taxpayers - for their lifelong incarceration."

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