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Illinois puts 17-year-olds facing felony charges back in juvenile court

On January 1, 2014, Illinois HB 2404 went into effect, extending the jurisdiction of the state's juvenile courts to 17 year-olds who are facing felony charges. Supporters of the law say that keeping more young people out of the adult justice system will increase their chances of rehabilitation and reduce recidivism.

Extending juvenile court jurisdiction

The new law is part of a larger effort at reforming Illinois' juvenile justice system that started in 2009. Lawmakers passed legislation that diverted 17 year-olds charged with misdemeanor offenses from adult court to juvenile court. Part of the law ordered the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission to undertake a study of the impact the change had on the justice system and to recommend possible reforms for the future.

In 2013, the IJJC released the findings of its two-year study, advocating that lawmakers eliminate the difference in ages of majority for misdemeanor and felony charges. The IJJC noted that doing so would bring Illinois in line with 38 other U.S. states in setting the age of adulthood for criminal matters at 18 years old. The IJJC noted that changing the age of majority for felony charges would impact approximately 4,000 young people annually in the state.

Lawmakers responded to the IJJC's findings by passing H.B. 2404, increasing the age that the law charges people for felonies as adults to 18 years old. The law does not impact "transfer" laws, which mandate that 17 year-olds be charged as adults for certain serious offenses.

Rehabilitation of juveniles

Supporters of the new law say that young people and, ultimately the state overall, will benefit from the change. The IJJC noted in its report that evidence about brain development and social research shows that young adults have more successful outcomes in juvenile justice systems. Juveniles' brains are still developing, meaning that they have a greater likelihood of success with the rehabilitative services and diversion programs that the juvenile justice system employs.

Adult criminal convictions often prevent young adults from completing education and finding employment, increasing likelihood of recidivism. Juvenile justice programs do not have the same impact on those convicted of crimes. The report stated that juveniles who go through the juvenile justice system are 34 percent less likely to re-offend than those who go through adult criminal courts.

Talk to a lawyer

Facing criminal charges in Illinois is a serious matter, whether the charges are felonies or misdemeanors. People's lives can be turned upside down simply by being charged with a crime, not to mention the possible penalties they face if convicted. If you have questions about criminal charges, speak with a skilled Illinois criminal defense attorney who can discuss your specific situation with you.

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