Illinois is beginning to move forward in terms of criminal justice reform. Senate Bill 4581 (SB 4581) implements significant changes to the manner in which young people are processed through the court system.
One of the most considerable aspects of the bill is its effort to provide those upon the precipice of adulthood with an extended opportunity to stay within the juvenile justice system for misdemeanor crimes, rather than plunging them directly into adult criminal court.
Here’s what you need to know about changing the age of entry into the adult justice system, and how this change can positively impact Illinois and its youth.
Emerging Adults Who Commit Crimes in Illinois
According to the Columbia University Justice Lab, emerging adults are not only more likely to be incarcerated, they’re also more likely to re-offend later.
In the state of Illinois, disparities are also clear between the incarceration of Caucasian and African American emerging adults. For instance, African American males making up nearly 40 percent of the emerging adults admitted to prisons. This rate is 7 to 9 times higher than their white counterparts.
The authors of SB 4581 want to help reduce these disparities by giving emerging adult offenders up to the age of 21 another chance to get help through the juvenile courts. The hope is to keep them from reoffending down the road.
The Efficacy of Illinois’ Juvenile Courts
The differences between the juvenile court system and the adult court system in Illinois run the gamut from arrest to sentencing. A few of the most important differences include the way policing is conducted, options for rehabilitation and further success through the courts, and rates of recidivism. Read more about the differences between each below.
Detention vs. Diversion
Through the adult justice system, when someone is arrested they may simply sit in jail if they are unable to make a bond until they go before a judge. In juvenile courts, there are diversion programs and court referrals to provide help to offenders instead of them simply languishing in jail. Additionally, there are no bonds, so getting out of juvenile detention does not depend on whether you have the economic means to do so.
In the adult justice system, sentencing involves either incarceration or probation, often with mandatory minimums put into place. However, the juvenile justice system allows for expansive options in counseling, diversion programs, job placement, rehabilitation, and most importantly ultimate expungement of the charges.
Reduced Personal Impact
When someone is convicted in the adult justice system, the collateral consequences can be far-reaching. A former offender’s future prospects when it comes to housing, employment, and even education may all be affected for years — which has been linked to high recidivism rates. Through the juvenile courts, however, criminal records can be expunged, having less impact on opportunities for a previous offender’s future overall.
What Senate Bill 4581 Will Do
Over time, SB 4581 seeks to gradually increase the age of emerging offenders from 18 to 21 in cases dealing with misdemeanor crimes. It will help emerging adults to be treated in a developmentally appropriate way through the juvenile justice system.
In doing so, the bill will help prevent future involvement in crimes and positively impact overall recidivism rates. Under the bill, delinquent minors are those who before their 21st birthday commit or attempt to commit a misdemeanor offense under state or federal law.
In 2019 the bill began to treat 19-year-old offenders in this way and now, in 2021, those who commit crimes on or before their 21st birthday will be dealt with in juvenile court.
This is a positive thing for the state and one that will hopefully help emerging adults have a better chance at a life free from crime.
About the Author
Sami Azhari has been working as a lawyer since 2007, after receiving his Juris Doctor from the Michigan State University College of Law. He has handled numerous state and federal cases and is known throughout the Chicago and Rolling Meadows area for providing his clients with high-quality, skilled representation. He has been recognized by Avvo (2013 and 2018), SuperLawyers (2015-2020), The National Trial Lawyers, and other notable organizations, and has spoken at a number of legal conferences.