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Cook County Raises Bar on Juvenile Detention Age

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Cook County has reduced juvenile detention admissions about 15 percent. (Cirt/Wikimedia)
Cook County has reduced juvenile detention admissions about 15 percent. (Cirt/Wikimedia)
 By Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL, Contact
September 13, 2018

CHICAGO – Hundreds of young children are held in juvenile detention facilities each year in Illinois.

And the county responsible for many of those admissions is changing its ways.

On Wednesday, Cook County approved an ordinance that sets the minimum age of detention at 13.

County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, who introduced the measure, explains that children who are in trouble need a safe space – a best practice that was not understood when the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center was constructed.

"Everything is on lockdown and people have cells,” he points out. “And so in our situation, it is just not a good place for super young children to be, and because they're so impressionable we're putting roadblocks in their way of being successful in the future."

Admissions in Cook County Detention account for about one-third of all admissions in Illinois.

Statewide in 2016, 49 children between ages 10 and 11 were detained, and more than 500 children ages 12 to 13.

Raising the age of detention is an issue State Rep. Robyn Gabel of Evanston has been trying to pass at the state level. She says Cook County is setting a good example for others to follow.

"For a child to spend just one day in juvenile detention changes the trajectory of that child's life,” she stresses. “These are just children who need help. And it's our responsibility as a state, as a society, to figure out what they need and do our best to provide it to them."

Mental health assessments, crisis stabilization plans and foster care are alternatives to detention that will be utilized in Cook County for youths younger than age 13.

Suffredin says these options can help reduce repeat offending, while protecting children and communities.

"We are really putting resources and efforts in to trying to keep children from getting into patterns that lead into either greater mental health problems for them or greater criminal activity for them,” he states. “And we're making progress."

Cook County is home to the first juvenile court in the world, and has reduced juvenile detention rates nearly 15 percent in recent years.

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