Study recommends sending 17-year-olds with felonies to juvenile - WREX.com – Rockford’s News Leader

Study recommends sending 17-year-olds with felonies to juvenile system

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SPRINGFIELD (WREX) -

A study by the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission has recommended doing away with the 2010 law that splits 17-year-olds who commit misdemeanors and those who commit felonies into separate court systems.

The Illinois law places 17-year-olds who commit misdemeanors into the juvenile court system, but those who commit felonies into the adult court system. However, the recent report recommends the state puts an end to that practice. However, under the report's recommendations, 17-year-olds would still be eligible to transfer to the adult system for serious offenses.

"Before the law changed in 2010, anyone over the age of 16 was subject to the adult system, which is far less rehabilitative and carries an adult criminal record," George W. Timberlake, Chair of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission and retired chief judge of the Second Judicial Circuit, said. "The compromise was better than leaving all 17-year-olds in the adult system, and now that the research demonstrates the system can manage the addition of 17-year-olds charged with felonies, it's time to complete the reform."

Some of the report's findings include:

  • Juvenile crime has sharply declined, with fewer juvenile arrests after including 17-year-olds with misdemeanors
  • County juvenile detention centers and state juvenile incarceration centers were not overrun, as had been feared, but excess capacity is seen around the state
  • Multiple federal policy briefs show the potential for adolescent offenders to change, and warn of serious negative public safety consequences when minors are sent through the adult system
  • Instead of clarity, the law splitting 17-year-olds caused confusion and jurisdictional questions that still regularly arise

The new federal Prison Rape Elimination Act now requires all offenders under the age of 18 to be housed separately from adults, which would not be a problem if all 17-year-old offenders were moved to the juvenile system.

"The operational impact of raising the age for approximately 4,000 17-year-olds arrested for felony offenses will not crash the system," according to the report. "In fact, most practitioners interviewed for this report believe the change will relieve some administrative burdens inherent in a 'bifurcated system' in which some 17-year-olds are handled as adults and others are considered juveniles."

Currently, only 11 other states use an age below 18 as a default for adult charges. The age for the majority of federal prosecutions is also 18.

The full report can be found at ijjc.illinois.gov/rta.

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