Advocates Seek to Keep Youth Out of Adult Courts

New York is one of two states to prosecute 16-year-olds as adults. Some state politicians want to change the law so that anyone ages 16 or 17 goes to a youth court instead of an adult criminal court. Proponents of raising the age argue a higher age of criminal responsibility allows more teens to outgrow criminal behavior. Advocates say that teenagers outgrow criminal behavior when treated like teens instead of adults, a point supported by science.

Raise the Age; Don’t Split the Difference

The MacArthur Foundation’s new “Mistakes Kids Make”Internet-based campaign is a welcome and innovative way to educate the public of the wisdom of giving kids an opportunity to straighten out their lives and learn from their mistakes. As I watched the campaign’s clever animated video, it occurred to me that it is important for young and old to learn from our mistakes. That’s a good reminder, not just for kids in trouble but for policy makers as well. In Illinois, we recently made a significant change in our juvenile justice system that, while not a gigantic mistake, is one that other states should avoid. On the plus side, we in Illinois are learning from those actions and taking steps to correct our system.

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

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.