Home News Center NJJN Member Spearheads Raise-the-Age-Victory in Illinois

NJJN Member Spearheads Raise-the-Age-Victory in Illinois

May 30, 2013
Zoe Schein

On May 14, the Illinois Senate passed House Bill 2404 to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 17 to 18 for youth charged with non-violent felonies. When signed into law, the bill would put  17-year-olds under the jurisdiction of juvenile, not adult court.old-state-capitol-IL-Teemu008

The bill follows legislation passed in 2009 that made the same change for youth charged with misdemeanors, and careful study of the effects of that legislation played a significant role in garnering support for HB2404. Nora Collins-Mandeville of the Juvenile Justice Initiative (JJI), NJJN’s Illinois member, said, “In 2008 there was a vote on raising the age and the initial idea was to have all the 17-year-old charges, misdemeanor and felony, start in juvenile court. Through negotiation among advocates and opponents, the decision was made to change the age [only] for misdemeanors and see how it [went]. The question was, well, can the system handle it?”

While opponents of the bill feared that the shift would be costly and overwhelming, an evaluation conducted by Illinois’ state advisory group found that the reclassification of 17-year-olds as juveniles in fact had a positive economic impact, incarcerating fewer youth and diverting them from the costly court process. “You can divert youth at a number of different points without court involvement,” said Betsy Clarke, Executive Director of JJI. “Diversionary programs, many of which are based in restorative justice, are strong in Illinois, and that’s how we get such a positive economic impact.” Diverting youth before they reach the court system affects more than just the state’s pocketbook. “There was no increase in crime, and that’s the most effective justice practice,” Clarke said.

After the success of the 2009 “Raise-the-Age” bill for misdemeanor offenses, JJI was able to garner support from across the state as well as across the aisle for the new bill. Clarke said, “Law enforcement likes that there are more options on the juvenile side, and they still had the option to transfer youth to adult court … and that helped as well.”

Ultimately, said Clarke, the “Raise-the-Age” bill is effective across the board. “It opens the door with these lower-level felonies for individualized, extremely effective, low-cost diversionary processes. Really ‘common-sense justice’ is what I call it.”

HB2404 is awaiting Governor Quinn’s signature.

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