Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission Report Advises Raising State Felony Age to 18

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The Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission(IJJC) recently released a report urging state policymakers to reclassify 17-year-olds as juveniles within the state’s legal system.

While a 2010 General Assembly act shifted the state’s 17-year-old misdemeanants to juvenile court jurisdictions, young people of the same age who commit felonies are automatically transferred to Illinois’ adult system.

“To promote a juvenile justice system focused on public safety, youth rehabilitation, fairness and fiscal responsibility,” the report reads, “Illinois should immediately adopt legislation expanding the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to include 17-year-olds charged with felonies.”

The IJJC suggested the state alter its policies and raise the adult court jurisdictional age to 18 for both misdemeanor and felony offenses.

“It’s a really well-researched, well-documented and well-substantiated report,” said Commission member and Children and Family Justice Center Director Julie Biehl. “It would be a positive effect to bring those young people who are charged with felonies back to juvenile court jurisdiction.”

Not only must criminal courts in Illinois hear all felony cases involving 17-year-olds, according to the report, the state’s criminal courts remain “categorically unable” to take age into account in felony cases.

“Few states circumscribe judicial discretion so tightly regarding offenders so young,” the report states. “No other state routinely gives more jurisdictional weight to a prosecutor’s initial filing decision than to an offender’s age.”

In addition to raising the juvenile court age limit, the IJJC also recommends aligning Illinois’ juvenile expungement statutes to “match” juvenile jurisdiction and further implementation of evidence-based, community-centered alternatives to juvenile detention within the state.

The report concludes by stating that adding an additional 14,000 to 18,000 juvenile misdemeanor cases annually was “absorbable” for the Illinois Juvenile Justice system, and that adding an estimated 4,000 juvenile felony offenses would not only be manageable, but promote “uniformity among system actors.”

“Illinois can achieve better long-term outcomes for 17-year-olds, public safety and the state economy by expanding juvenile jurisdiction,” the report reads. “Current legal and scientific trends are clear: by putting all felony-charged 17-year-olds in criminal court by default, Illinois is becoming a national outlier, is ignoring research findings about adolescent development and behavior and is squandering the potential of many of its youth.”

Photo courtesy of suzphotofun on Flickr.

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