New law ends automatic transfer of some juveniles to adult court

New law ends automatic transfer of some juveniles to adult court

Changes to transfer policy will keep more minors under juvenile supervision, where they belong.

Juveniles aren’t adults. But the eyes of the law all too often see them as such. Thankfully, Illinois’ criminal-justice system is set to change on this front.

On August 4, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill into law that stops automatic transfers to adult court for juveniles who are 15, and limits the transfer of juveniles aged 16 and 17 to only the most serious of crimes. The bill, HB 3718, was passed on June 29 by the Illinois General Assembly after negotiations and compromises between reformers and law-enforcement representatives.

A key priority of criminal-justice reform should be establishing objective measures of risk assessment that can be applied to individual offenders, and allowing judges to act on this information to tailor an appropriate punishment. That way, public safety is protected and the state uses public resources more efficiently. Lawmakers passed HB 3718 to that end.

Illinois law generally requires that specialized juvenile courts control sentencing of minors and set their corrections, since minors have different risk profiles and needs than adults. For example, incarceration at a younger age can actually inhibit rehabilitation. A study by researchers at MIT and Brown showed that incarcerating minors significantly diminishes the likelihood they will complete high school, and makes them more likely to be incarcerated as adults. Juveniles tried as adults are also 34 percent more likely to commit crimes when they become adults, according to research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This doesn’t mean that a transfer to adult court is never justified. But the decision needs to be made by a judge based on the crime, an individual’s criminal history and the risk they pose to the public. If the goal is to protect public safety, it’s not enough to shortsightedly focus exclusively on punishment; Illinois’ policies need to appropriately rehabilitate offenders so they aren’t a risk when they are released. For minors, this is more likely to happen under the juvenile justice system.

There’s more that needs to be done, but this new law is a positive step toward a more sensible sentencing regime.

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