Invoice would increase the age for juvenile justice / public intelligence crime instances

18-year-olds who commit offenses are currently being tried in an adult court, but a bill is set to change that. (Chatiyanon / Adobe Stock)

By Lily Bohlke, Public Intelligence – IL Producer, Contact

April 8, 2021

SPRINGFIELD, IL. – A bill pending in the Illinois House of Representatives would bring misdemeanor cases against older teenagers to juvenile courts rather than adult courts.

With House Bill 111, aspiring adults could be regarded as “criminal minors” up to their 19th birthday and sentenced in the juvenile system.

Lael Chester, director of the Emerging Adult Justice Project at Columbia University Justice Lab, said 18 is an arbitrary age to bring teens to justice.

She pointed out that young people in their mid-20s go through a tremendous period of growth, arguing that young people can be particularly at risk not only in the adult court and prison system, but also affect the rest of their lives.

“If you’re applying to college, when you have a job and someone asks you if you’ve been convicted of a crime, you haven’t been convicted, you have been convicted,” explained Chester. “And it really gives young people an opportunity to get their feet in the ground.”

Chester pointed out that Illinois is up to date, but it is not the first state to take the move. As of July last year, Vermont 18 year olds began entering the juvenile system for offenses.

Chester noted that focusing on aspiring adults is one way to reduce racial gaps in the judicial system.

“Racial differences are widespread across the judicial system at all ages,” said Chester. “But in fact, 18- and 19-year-olds have by far the greatest racial gaps of any age group in the judiciary.”

Senator Laura Fine, D-Glenview, supported similar bills in the Senate and said she plans to move forward on the House bill if and when it is passed.

She added that there are many reasons young people commit crimes and that the adolescent system is a better place to find out how to help children have prosperous and healthy futures.

“There are more opportunities for service in the youth system,” noted Fine. “And sometimes these children need service rather than severe punishment.”

Recent research has shown that people who are not arrested and prosecuted for nonviolent offenses are less likely to be reoffended, especially when they first encounter the justice system.

Quote: Senate Bill 2385 Quote: Study by the National Bureau of Economic Research

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