Innovation Brief: Reforming Automatic Transfer Laws: A Success Story
Published Nov 30, 2012, Jason Szanyi, Center for Children’s Law and Policy
In the mid-1980s, the Illinois Legislature took a tough stance on drug use among youth. As part of a national trend toward harsher punishments for juveniles, lawmakers decided to prosecute in adult court all 15- and 16-year-olds charged with drug offenses within 1,000 feet of a school or public housing development. Although the law applied to youth throughout the state, its effects were felt most harshly by children of color from Chicago. Armed with data gathered with support from the Models for Change initiative, advocates overcame criticism that proposed reforms were “soft on crime” and mounted a successful campaign to change the law. Within two years, automatic transfers in Cook County, which includes Chicago, fell by two-thirds—without compromising public safety.
This brief is one in a series describing new knowledge and innovations emerging from Models for Change, a multi-state juvenile justice initiative. Models for Change is accelerating movement toward a more effective, fair, and developmentally sound juvenile justice system by creating replicable models that protect community safety, use resources wisely, and improve outcomes for youths. The briefs are intended to inform professionals in juvenile justice and related fields, and to contribute to a new national wave of juvenile justice reform.