IL law proposed to keep 17-year-olds charged as minors - – Rockford’s News Leader

IL law proposed to keep 17-year-olds charged as minors

(File photo) (File photo)
Bill Vedra, superintendent of the Winnebago County Juvenile Detention Center. Bill Vedra, superintendent of the Winnebago County Juvenile Detention Center.

In Illinois you cannot vote, buy cigarettes or even play the lottery until you are 18-year-old but the state often treats children who commit crime as if they are that age. In the past it's been up to prosecutors to decide if a 17-year-old should end up in adult or juvenile court. A proposed law says children ages 17 and younger who commit felonies should not be moved to adult court.

"Seventeen year olds treated in the juvenile justice system are less likely to commit crimes in the future as opposed to 17 year olds who have been treated as adults," says Judge George Timberlake.

That's a big reason why the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission is pushing for teens charged with felonies to stay classified as a minor. The group made up of judges, prosecutors and social service workers, was charged with making this report to lawmakers. But there are still some crimes the group thinks belongs in adult court.

"You make a carve out for those very serious offenses like murder to say we are going to treat them different, we are going to treat them as adults," say Judge Timberlake.

The law would also include holding teens in the juvenile system until they are 18-year-old instead of transferring them to jail or prison when they turn 17. Though the head of Winnebago County's Juvenile Detention Center expects only about a dozen new teens if the change happens it could create serious problems.

"It would mean probably at some point the county would have to consider expanding this facility. It would probably mean we would have to look at some of the services we provide. We would have to provide in house medical, in house dental those kinds of services will also be issues," says Bill Vedra, superintendent of the Juvenile Detention Center.

This type of law is already in place in 39 states. Right now the bill is only in committee.

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