Group Says Minority Juveniles Hit Hardest by Illinois Law
Updated: Monday, February 9 2015, 10:55 PM CST
Giving kids convicted of serious crimes a fighting change is what one group is calling on the state to do as it challenges an Illinois law requiring juveniles accused of violent crimes be charged as adults.
Charging juveniles as adults for serious felonies has been law in Illinois for 32 years. Now the Juvenile Justice Initiative says the law gives "extreme power to prosecutors" rather than determining if it's more appropriate and better for public safety to try the child as a juvenile.
Sangamon county state's attorney John Milhiser said, "For these violent offenders - first degree murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault - we must protect the public first, but to the extent we can rehabilitate these young offenders, we need to do that."
A study of hundreds of Cook county cases over three years found almost all juveniles cases automatically transferred to adult courts involved minorities.
Milhiser, as well as community advocates, say we need to address the root of the problem: why are kids committing crimes in the first place? Advocates also want more programs to rehabilitate youth who have been convicted, so they have a chance at becoming productive adults.
"I think what the Juvenile Justice Initiative has exposed is when we treat our youngest, our children, as adults in an attempt to correct a problem - even one as serious as violent crimes - the outcome we get is not one we find that benefits society," said Howard Peters with the Springfield Urban League. He believes investing in kids from birth helps curb a life of crime. Through Headstart programs, kids get an educational foundation and staff addresses issues related to poverty.
"Those resources are critical to stabilizing and creating prosperity within our community," Peters said.
Although, expanding programs like those may prove more difficult as community-based programs throughout the state are in jeopardy of funding cuts.
The state started a program called Redeploy Illinois in 2005 to give counties money for community services for delinquent youth, as an alternative to throwing them in lock-up. Since then, a state department claims the program diverted more than 1,200 youth; saving Illinois taxpayers $60-million in prison costs.