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Automatic Adult Prosecution of Children in Cook County, Illinois 2010-2012

Published Apr 22, 2014, Juvenile Justice Initiative, Kanako Ishida, Policy Research Analyst; Elizabeth Clarke, President; David Reed, Board Member

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Over 30 years of poor outcomes from “automatic” adult prosecution of children.

Under Illinois' automatic transfer law in effect during the study of 2010 through 2012, anyone age 15 or 16 charged with certain felonies automatically bypasses the more rehabilitation-focused juvenile court, and there is no judicial review or appeal of a prosecutor’s decision to try a child in adult court.

Illinois is now one of only 14 states with no ability for a judge to provide individual review, either in juvenile or adult court, of the decision to try a child in adult court.

The  research into the 257 automatic transfer cases in Cook County from 2010 through 2012 found that only one white boy was among the 257 Cook County children charged with crimes requiring an automatic transfer to adult court, and most of those children live in predominantly minority communities in the south and west sides of Chicago.   Half the children end up convicted of lesser offenses – offenses that would not have triggered adult trial if charged appropriately at the outset.  These poor outcomes and racial disparities have been consistently demonstrated in studies over the 30-year lifetime of these automatic transfer policies.

The report findings include:

  • Automatic transfer disproportionately affects children of color. In three years of “automatic” trial of children in adult court in Cook County, there was only one white child.T
  • The majority (54 percent) of convictions were for lesser offenses — plea-bargained down to offenses that would not have trigged transfer and would have left the child in juvenile court.
  • Only 13 percent of the automatic transfers were charged as first-degree murder.
  • A child awaiting trial as an adult spent a year or more in the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center.   By contrast, one-half of the children charged in juvenile court spend a month or less in detention.

The report argues for the restoration of judicial decision-making authority to determine whether a youth is tried in juvenile or adult court through a meaningful, individualized court hearing that takes into account the child's age, degree of participation in offense, and individual circumstances.

Throughout its invesment in juvenile justice reform in Illinois, Models for Change has helped to keep kids in the appropriate jurisdictional boundaries of the juvenile court by supporting research, policy reform, and advocacy. 

Read the press release on the report. 

Reform areas: Racial-ethnic fairness/DMC

States: Illinois

Categories: Jurisdictional boundaries

Tags: jurisdictional boundaries

Uploaded Apr 22, 2014


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