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Data Shows Dozens of Pre-Teen Illinois Kids Detained in 2020


Thursday, September 17, 2020   

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Juvenile-justice advocates say Illinois is failing its children by allowing kids as young as 10 years old to be locked-up without being found guilty of a crime.

State law limits prison to children who are age 13 or older and have a felony conviction, but doesn't follow the same standard before trial.

Shawn Freeman, research program coordinator for the University of Illinois Center for Prevention Research and Development, has authored several reports for the state on juvenile-detention admissions.

He said the data shows during a year dominated by a pandemic, so far roughly 50 kids younger than 13 have been held before trial.

"You can actually see how many 10-year-olds, how many 11-year-olds, how many 12-year-olds," Freeman said. "And each of those represent someone's son, someone's daughter, someone's young child who is having this traumatic experience of being placed behind secure doors in a cell."

Freeman said overall daily juvenile detention admissions took a dive due to the pandemic, falling 19% between March and April.

State Representative Robyn Gabel, D-Evanston, sponsored H.B. 4613 this year, which includes reforms to hold pre-trial detention standards for children to the same requirements for after trial.

The Evanston Democrat said it requires detention be used as a last resort.

"Illinois was where we had the first juvenile court where we realized that children need to be treated differently than adults," Gabel said. "And since then we've had so much research on brain development and how kids make decisions about their behavior, and how instead of punishment they really need to be rehabilitated and helped."

Gabel said reforms also are needed to help reduce the glaring racial and ethnic disparities in the system.

She said 60% of youths locked up in detention in June were Black and nearly half were there for non-felony offenses.

"We have to be very careful on how we make those decisions on which kids should go to juvenile detention and which can go back to their families or back to other behavioral crisis-intervention services," Gabel added.

Gabel said there are efforts to get H.B. 4613 into an omnibus criminal justice bill for the veto session in November.

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