To promote a juvenile justice system focused on public safety, youth rehabilitation, fairness, and fiscal responsibility, Illinois should immediately adopt legislation expanding the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to include 17-year-olds charged with felonies.
Adding between 14,000-18,000 misdemeanor arrests per year to juvenile jurisdiction was absorbable. Declining crime and increasing use of evidence-based juvenile justice practices have contributed to caseload reductions in the most costly parts of the juvenile justice system since Illinois law began treating 17-year-old misdemeanants as juveniles in 2010. However, the current law placing some 17-year-old offenders in the juvenile system and some in the adult system is unfair and unworkable for both youth and practitioners due to confusion over exactly which 17-year-olds are adults.
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. Illinois should act to raise the age. Adding fewer than 4,000 felony arrests per year to the juvenile system can be expected to be manageable and will promote uniformity and clarity among system actors.
It is counterproductive and cruel to impose the lifelong collateral consequences of felony convictions on minors who are likely to be rehabilitated. Illinois can achieve better long-term outcomes for 17-year-olds, public safety, and the state economy by expanding juvenile jurisdiction. In doing so, it is critical to ensure the juvenile justice system is robust, by adequately funding and supporting diversion, probation, and community-based services, as well as the public educational, health, and human service infrastructure upon which many at-risk youth must rely. Efforts at reducing the extent of youth contact with the juvenile justice system by focusing on front-end services are working; in order to be most effective, however, these services must be fully-funded, available, and extended through all developmentally-appropriate ages.
Raising the Age of Juvenile Court Jurisdiction
The future of 17-year-olds in Illinois' justice system.
Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission