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Food for thought

Tuesday, Feb 26, 2013

* With all the goofy bills being proposed these days, here’s some real food for thought

Illinois should stop automatically treating 17-year-olds charged with felonies as adults, a state juvenile justice advisory group recommended Tuesday.

The Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, a 24-member advisory group chaired by retired chief judge George Timberlake of Mount Vernon, issued its report after examining the impact of a 2010 change in state law.

Before 2010, anyone older than 16 charged with any type of crime was treated as an adult and went through the adult court system.

In 2010, the General Assembly reached a compromise — 17-year-olds charged with misdemeanors would be handled in the juvenile justice courts, and 17-year-olds charged with felonies would be prosecuted as adults.

Most states set 18 as the default age when criminal defendants will be treated as an adult. Illinois is one of 12 states with a lower age, the commission reported.

The report is here. Go take a look at it and tell us what you think.

- Posted by Rich Miller        


21 Comments
  1. - Just Observing - Tuesday, Feb 26, 13 @ 1:33 pm:

    I tend to agree that 18 should be the default age. How do we say 17 year olds are not mature enough to buy cigarettes, sign contracts, play the lotto, etc. but for crimes they should be treated as adults? They can’t even leave school for a doctor appointment unless Mom or Dad call the school.


  2. - Commonsense in Illinois - Tuesday, Feb 26, 13 @ 1:40 pm:

    When I was with the Department of Corrections in the 1980s, 17 was the age for transfer to “adult” court. In large measure this was the result of gangs recruiting younger kids and then getting them to do their dirty work because they would end up doing hard time. Once 17 year olds started being transferred to “adult” the gangs then recruited younger and younger kids - especially 12 year olds because under state law nobody under 13 years of age can be charged with a crime. So, elementary school kids are holding drugs and weapons for older gang members. While I don’t think changing the age to 18 will put a dent into any incarceration rates, I also believe giving a 17-year old a “pass” at hard time isn’t going to achieve the desired result either.


  3. - A new perspective - Tuesday, Feb 26, 13 @ 1:45 pm:

    Considering most people in college and under 30, we probably shouldn’t treat anyone under 30 as an adult.


  4. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Feb 26, 13 @ 2:13 pm:

    Some real good work here. The key word is “automatic.”

    Judges and prosecutors should have more discretion.

    Throwing some 17-year-old burglar into Pontiac is, in my opinion, cruel and unusual punishment.

    Years ago, a 17-year-old broke into my garage. My neighbor across the alley spotted him and called the cops.

    The kid dallied too long (no doubt trying to find something worth stealing amongst all the junk) and was caught.

    He showed up at his first court appearance with a Navy recruiter. I got a call from the State’s Attorney office, who said if I didn’t have a beef, they would drop the charges and he would join the Navy.

    I was very happy to say yes. I hope that still goes on. Except in the most extreme cases, a 17-year-old screwup deserves another chance.


  5. - 47th Ward - Tuesday, Feb 26, 13 @ 2:30 pm:

    “Automatic” is the key word, Word. Well said.

    On the other hand, a 16-year-old ward of the state is charged with raping and kidnapping a 43-year-old Bucktown woman in her home in the middle of the day, a Sunday no less. Should he be set free when he turns 21 (assuming just for the moment that he is found guilty)?

    Discretion is the best part of the American legal tradition. Too many legislators have taken that away from judges and prosecutors. That leads to real injustice.


  6. - MrJM - Tuesday, Feb 26, 13 @ 2:34 pm:

    Words’ comment crystallizes the merit of this change: the vast majority of 17 year-old screw-ups can still change for the better. But if they are jammed into the adult system, they won’t get the opportunity or interventions necessary to make such a change. And we all pay for that for the rest of that kid’s life.

    From a purely selfish point of view, this line from the report is worth noting: “Studies of youth transferred to adult courts indicate higher recidivism rates than similar youth handled by juvenile courts.”

    Juvenile courts can stop criminal careers before they start. You don’t have to care about anyone but yourself, your family or your tax bill to support raising the age.

    – MrJM


  7. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Feb 26, 13 @ 2:40 pm:

    47, agreed.


  8. - mythoughtis - Tuesday, Feb 26, 13 @ 2:46 pm:

    So, if they just mess up a little bit(misdeameanor), then they are not mature enough to be treated as an adult… but if they mess up big time (felony), then they are considered mature enough to be tried as an adult? Seems to me we have that backwards. I think 17 year oldss are mature enough for the small decisions, but not to the beig ones. Isn’t that pretty much how we treat them -see earlier comments about decisions we allow them to make.

    I think since we don’t let 17 year olds be real adults, then we can’t decide to treat them as real adults in the criminal courts. Heck, we don’t even treat 18, 19, 20 year olds as real adults (graduated drivers license, no alcohol, claimed as dependent on parents tax return, parents income counts against financing for college aid, etc.)


  9. - Just The Way It Is One - Tuesday, Feb 26, 13 @ 2:47 pm:

    Good point by Wordslinger. States’ Attorneys should be given more discretion about 17 year olds and handle each individual on a case-by-case basis. This blanket approach to alleged justice really is sometimes trying to fit a square peg into a round hole–One Size just doesn’t always fit all!!!


  10. - mythoughtis - Tuesday, Feb 26, 13 @ 2:47 pm:

    sorry, that was supposed to be ‘not for the big ones (decisions)’.


  11. - Just The Way It Is One - Tuesday, Feb 26, 13 @ 2:48 pm:

    And Judges given the discretion as well, as previously suggested @2:13 pm.


  12. - South - Tuesday, Feb 26, 13 @ 2:54 pm:

    I disagree if a 17 year old committs a felony then he or she should be held accountable and charged as a adult. I think most victims would agree.


  13. - Anon - Tuesday, Feb 26, 13 @ 3:18 pm:

    I think some people are missing a key point here. The State’s Attorney can seek transfer to adult court on almost any case. it is then up to the judges discretion whether to do so based on arguments from both sides. Second, the 16 year old accused of sexual assault can also be transferred to adult court and in fact it might even be mandatory. We have very strict mandatory transfer laws in Illinois. All this report recommends is we treat all 17 year olds the same as a baseline, but every other law that sends a juvenile to adult court still applies. The real question is if your 17 year old child committed retail theft in excess of $300 (a Class 3 felony)do you want them going to adult jail, getting an adult sentence, and having an adult record that keeps them from getting a job in the future or do you want them to be given the protection of confidentiality that juvenile court provides and recieve services so they can learn from their mistake and move on with their life?


  14. - walk in my shoes - Tuesday, Feb 26, 13 @ 3:27 pm:

    Perhaps IDJJ and this commission have lost sight of what this change would mean. It would mean these “juveniles” would then need to be housed in a juvenile facility. They just shut down two juvenile facilities siting amongst other things that juvenile crime is down. It’s a matter of watching the news, reading the paper to understand it is not down and in most cases is being hidden with ReDeploy Illinios (which I believe is a good program; however it should not come with what appears to be multiple trips before the judge because the “juvenile” cannot stop committing crimes). Those that lead IDJJ should step down for destroying its own mission statement. Youth are now being housed 3 to 8 hours away from their families and yet IDJJ states family reunification and keeping youth closer to their communities is a key component in reducing recidivism. As with IDOC, the moves made by IDJJ, have resulted in staff assaults and an increase in the use of pepper spray. Another commission and another department making a continued laughing stock out of Illinoios.


  15. - MrJM - Tuesday, Feb 26, 13 @ 3:51 pm:

    @Walk,

    Contrary to what you may believe, your “watching the news” methodology doesn’t compare very well against the commission’s citation-laden report.

    However, buttressing your empty assertion with a conspiracy theory was a pretty bold move. For that, I tip my tin-foil hat to you.

    – MrJM


  16. - Pension is a promise - Tuesday, Feb 26, 13 @ 4:19 pm:

    I agree the IDJJ officials should step down. How can you think it’s a good idea to place a kid 6 hours from his family? But read the OIG report on IDJJ Deputy Director Ron Smith..this finding is exactly the problem with the administration running IDJJ. Poor judgement and clueless


  17. - Anon99 - Tuesday, Feb 26, 13 @ 4:31 pm:

    It seems that a 17 year old who engages in misdemeanor mischief or theft has done something immature and irresponsible, and can still be turned around and should not automatically be considered a danger to others… their property and money perhaps, but not their safety. This person should not necessarily be paying for this the rest of their lives.

    Someone who enages in murder, rape, brutal assault, at 17 is someone who is way beyond petty immaturity or even serious delinquincy. They will likely be a serious threat to others well past 18.

    Cannot even compare murder to stealing a PS3.


  18. - Quiet Sage - Tuesday, Feb 26, 13 @ 5:05 pm:

    To Annon99: The problem is that, with year after year of legislators “getting tough” on crime, many crimes that should be misdemeanors are now felonies.


  19. - What is to be done? - Tuesday, Feb 26, 13 @ 6:22 pm:

    17 for a felony, 18 for misdemeanors. Problem solved.


  20. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Tuesday, Feb 26, 13 @ 6:26 pm:

    All other things being equal, discretion in the justice system is a good thing. Look at Cool Hand Luke.

    By the same token, discretion can lead to inequalities inthe delivery of justice, and malfeasance, as history has shown, so youve got to balance the discretion with watchdogs, advocates and public accountability.


  21. - Richard Afflis - Tuesday, Feb 26, 13 @ 8:24 pm:

    Some crimes- like the violent ones should bring you into the adult regardless of age. For the less violent ones like theft, the current system is probably better.


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