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Report: IL Out of Step on Juvenile-Justice Protections

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A human rights report gives Illinois 3.5 points out of 10 for how kids are treated in the criminal-justice system. (AdobeStock)
A human rights report gives Illinois 3.5 points out of 10 for how kids are treated in the criminal-justice system. (AdobeStock)
 By Mary Schuermann Kuhlman - Producer, Contact
December 28, 2020

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Advocates say Illinois and many other states are out of step with other developed countries when it comes to the treatment of kids in the justice system.

A 2020 State Ratings report from the organization Human Rights for Kids looks at 12 areas needed to create a legal framework to protect the human rights of children in conflict with the law. Elizabeth Clarke, president of the Juvenile Justice Initiative, said Illinois is among the states that have done the bare minimum.

"And this is really sobering, because Illinois is the home of the world's first juvenile court, so at one point over 100 years ago, Illinois led the world in terms of rights for children," Clarke said. "But, in this, it's one of the lowest in the country."

Clarke contends one reason Illinois was rated so poorly is it has no minimum age for prosecution as a juvenile delinquent. The report uses the age of 10 as a minimum benchmark, but international standards recommend age 14.

More than half of states have no minimum age for prosecution, which Alyson Clements, director of membership and advocacy with the National Juvenile Justice Network, said means a 6-year-old could spend time behind bars.

"We know that detention has lasting effects on young people and it's really quite devastating," Clements said. "And so a kid who might need additional support, they're not getting that in detention; they're getting additional trauma."

CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice Marcy Mistrett noted over the past decade, Illinois has improved community supports and diversion programs, reduced transfers to adult court and raised the age of criminal responsibility from 17 to 18. She said setting a minimum age for prosecution would be another important reform.

"They have done a lot to move in the right direction; this would be a natural step for them," Mistrett said. "We are a long way in this country from really upholding children as sacred, as children who are experiencing trauma. We still have a long way to go."

Some Illinois lawmakers are pushing to raise the age of detention from 10 to 13, so it's in line with the age for commitment to juvenile detention after a finding of guilt.

Disclosure: Juvenile Justice Initiative contributes to our fund for reporting on Children's Issues, Criminal Justice, Juvenile Justice, Youth Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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