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An International View of Justice for Illinois’ Young Adults

Experts say there are collateral consequences for older youths who have an adult criminal record.(Jan H. Anderson/Adobe Stock)
Experts say there are collateral consequences for older youths who have an adult criminal record.
(Jan H. Anderson/Adobe Stock)
June 5, 2019

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Illinois lawmakers, along with state and national judicial leaders, will get an international perspective today on ways to create better outcomes for emerging adults in the justice system.

This group ranges in age from 18 to about 25 and, according to research, has the highest recidivism rates. Lael Chester, director of the Columbia University Justice Lab's Emerging Adult Justice Project, said the juvenile justice system needs to acknowledge that this age group is developmentally different from older adults.

"Youths can do things that are wrong, absolutely. They must be held accountable," she said. "But this is a period of tremendous growth and malleability. So the question is, can society do it in a way that is going to help them grow up, or are we going to do it in a way that hurts them?"

The Justice Lab is hosting the forum along with the Juvenile Justice Initiative. Chester said they'll hear from prosecutors, judges and probation leaders from Germany and Croatia about their policies of using juvenile sentences for emerging adults in trouble with the law.

State Sen. Laura Fine, D-Glenview, will join the conversation since she had an opportunity to visit the juvenile justice system in Germany, where she said outcomes are better.

"They look at these kids and say, 'How can they become productive citizens?' Not, 'How can we punish them?' And here, we try to do our best here to work with our kids, give them the therapy that they need," Fine said, "but the focus there is just very different."

Chester said the forum will highlight the justice-system disparities for young people from lower-income communities.

"Most of these youths with grow up and out of crime, but if they are left with an adult record, that's going to have tremendous collateral consequences," she said. "We've left them in a situation where they often just cycle in and out of the justice system, at a tremendous cost to taxpayers, but also a tremendous cost to future victims."

Fine sponsored Senate Bill 239 to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 18 to 21. She contended that a new approach is needed for the current generation that addresses the root cause of their troubles.

"They're suffering from so much more trauma than we ever had to experience," she said. "We didn't have to have an active-shooter drill in our schools. We weren't afraid that, you know, somebody's going to be driving down the street and we're going to get shot while we were sitting in our home."

In 2010, Illinois became the first state to raise its age of juvenile jurisdiction to 18 exclusively for misdemeanors, followed by the inclusion of felony cases in 2014.

The text of SB 239 is online at ilga.gov.

Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL