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Case to End Automatic Adult Court Trial of Juveniles

Research shows that automatic transfer laws disproportionately impact youth of color. (AdobeStock)
Research shows that automatic transfer laws disproportionately impact youth of color. (AdobeStock)
June 1, 2020

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- New research suggests that, if given time for proper review, Illinois could greatly reduce the number of juvenile cases that are sent to adult court and, in turn, give youth in trouble a better shot at redemption.

In 2015, the legislature limited the automatic transfer of cases involving juveniles to the adult court, based solely on age and offense. The 181 youth with cases pending in adult court at that time were then sent back to juvenile court for review.

The Juvenile Justice Initiative examined the outcomes in those cases, and found that 88% of the them did belong in juvenile court.

Herschella Conyers, director of the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Clinic and clinical professor of law at the University of Chicago Law School, says it shows that individual review makes a significant difference.

"We've found ways to keep these kids, get them back to juvenile court," she states. "And the real finding that has to be acknowledged in this also is that this was done without any increase in violent juvenile offenders. "

As it turned out, 23 of the cases were never prosecuted. Currently certain juvenile cases are still automatically tried in adult court. Ending automatic adult trial would mean juvenile cases could still be prosecuted in adult court, but only after a juvenile court judge approved a petition by the prosecutor to transfer the case.

Conyers points out that no other developed nation allows children under the age of 18 to be prosecuted under adult criminal law, because they understand youth need specialized rehabilitative services.

"The average kid will outgrow her delinquency for engaging in criminal behavior and will become a productive citizen if allowed to do so," Conyers states.

The report calls for Illinois state leaders to end the automatic transfer of children to adult court and allow juvenile court judges to use discretion with individual cases. Conyers believes it could happen.

"There's momentum," she states. "It's always been there. We've had some good allies in the state legislature. I know that the current administration takes these issues seriously, so, I remain hopeful."

Earlier research by the Juvenile Justice Initiative revealed that automatic transfer laws disproportionately impact youth of color, and that youth on average spend over a year awaiting trial.

Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL