New 2016 Laws Aim to Keep Illinois Teens Out of Prison

 Posted on January 15, 2016 in Criminal Defense

keep teens out of prison, Chicago Criminal Defense AttorneyAs the debate on the incredibly high number of inmates in America continues, many state officials across the country are pledging to reduce prison populations in their states within the coming years. Last year, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner announced his goal of reducing the state’s large inmate population by 25 percent within the next 10 years. Now, thanks to a new package of laws that went into effect at the start of the new year, Illinois officials are doing even more to reduce the number of inmates in the state. The group of laws all aim to reduce the population of juveniles in the state prison system, many of whom continue to cycle in and out of prison for the rest of their lives.

The first law changes how and when teenagers can be tried as adults. Previous Illinois law required that teens, ages 15 and older, be tried as adults when charged with one of five state determined serious crimes: armed robbery with a firearm, aggravated battery with a firearm, aggravated vehicular hijacking with a firearm, aggravated criminal sexual assault, and first-degree murder. Additionally, any teen tried once as an adult would automatically be tried as an adult for any future offenses, a practice often called “once an adult, always an adult.”

Now, teens 16 and under will start their court process in juvenile court, no matter the charges they face. Teens 16 and older will only be tried as an adult if they are charged with one of three crimes: aggravated battery with a firearm, aggravated criminal sexual assault, and first-degree murder. Lawmakers hope this change will help keep more teens out of prison, and instead provide them with paths to rehabilitation through juvenile courts. “Anyone who can remember their teenage years or knows a teenager knows teens are impulsive,” says one expert. “Knowing teenage behavior told us that it was the right thing to do, to create a separate system to keep juveniles focused on rehabilitation for everything except the most serious crimes.”

Another law removes Illinois’ mandatory requirement that juveniles convicted of murder be charged with life sentences. Judges still have the option to sentence a teen to a life sentence, but they know must first consider a variety of other factors like history of neglect, pressure from family or friends, past crime history, maturity level, and signs of remorse. “We do not want every juvenile to be sentenced to life in prison without any chance of hope,” says one Illinois State Senator. Lawmakers say this change will allow officials the chance to determine if teenage offenders are capable of rejoining society in the future. This change comes after the United States Supreme Court ruled that sentencing minors to life in prison without a chance for parole qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment.

Along similar lines, another new change will now allow judges more flexibility when sentencing minors. They will be able to hand out tougher sentences to youths who used a gun in their crime, or if the crime was committed against a state official like a paramedic, corrections worker, or police officer. Judges will also know be able to weigh a variety of factors including a minor’s age, home life, level of participation in a crime, and cognitive ability when sentencing.

Lawmakers say their goal with the change was to individualize the court process for youths, as every youth offender is different. Requirements that forced court officials to dole out harsher sentences or mandated that minors be tried adults were not truly serving youths who deserved a second chance.

An additional law, which aims to save the state millions of dollars, will stop youth offenders from being sent to detention facilities for misdemeanor crimes like battery, trespassing, theft, or marijuana possession. Lawmakers say they made the change because Illinois teens often faced harsher punishments for misdemeanor crimes than adults faced. State officials say that 110 juveniles were admitted annually into juvenile detention facilities for small misdemeanor charges, and each offender costs the facility more than $300 each day. On average, juvenile offenders charged with misdemeanors stayed in these facilities for 135 days, meaning that this new relaxed law will save the state more than $4.5 million dollars each year.

A final law will now require that children under 13 be placed with a community-based youth service provider rather than being held in a detention center. This age group, lawmakers say, is the most open and accepting of counseling and other programs that can help them turn their lives around.

These changes, while only a small step towards the planned overhaul of the Illinois criminal justice system, indicate substantial progress. American officials have long been at odds on how to handle the country's large prison populations, and while policymakers once maintained a tough anti-crime approach, opinions are changing.

In Illinois, a state with 46,052 inmates in custody, even small changes are a step in the right direction. “There has been a recognition that our system of justice needs to be more just and less retribution-focused,” said a Downers Grove Senator. “And I think this area has been ripe for compromise because of the new way everyone is looking at crime and punishment and the literal cost for society, and what society pays for that path.” Next up, a group of community activists, lawmakers, law enforcement officials, and court administrators will begin deciding how to further cut the state's number of inmates and reform how the state handles offenders.

If you or your child is facing criminal charges, you need the help of a serious criminal defense attorney. The team at the Law Offices of Hal M. Garfinkel LLC, Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney is equipped to handle a wide variety of criminal charges, including serious charges like sexual assault and murder. If you or your child is being charged with a serious offense, you need to know what legal options are available to you. Call 312-629-0669 to speak to a skilled Chicago criminal defense attorney today to schedule a free consultation to review your options. Do not wait, your future may depend on it.

Share this post:
Back to Top