Home News Center Illinois Justice Advocates Applaud Sweeping Criminal Justice Reforms

Illinois Justice Advocates Applaud Sweeping Criminal Justice Reforms

January 28, 2021
Courtney M. McSwain

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NJJN member the Juvenile Justice Initiative (JJI) is among advocates in Illinois applauding the sweeping changes made in a recently passed criminal justice reform package, which has major implications for youth-police relations in the state.

In January, the Illinois General Assembly passed the Senate Amendment 2 to House Bill 3653, which included wide-ranging criminal justice reforms, some of which include:

  • Expanding training and reliance on emergency medical response and crisis intervention techniques rather than law enforcement response to conflict
  • Citation rather than arrest for low level (Class B/C) misdemeanor offenses
  • Body cameras requirement
  • Mandatory training on mental health, crisis intervention and racial equity with certification requirements
  • Abolition of cash bail
  • End of mandatory minimums for low level offenses
  • Requiring first offense to be after age 21 to qualify for habitual/forcible felony sentencing

George Floyd’s killing at the hands of Minnesota police in the spring of 2020, and the resulting national protests, created urgency to act on many of these reforms that had been debated and well-researched for years. Luis Klein, JJI Director of Policy and Strategic Initiatives, describes some of the history behind the sweeping reforms:

“These policy changes have been vetted through years of debate and are rooted in research. Indeed, the National Academy of Science came out with a report in 2014 that showed, pretty definitively, that mass incarceration has a negligible (if any) impact on crime rates. It really proved that we have to create alternatives to mass incarceration, which was the genesis of where we are right now: an understanding among advocates and the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus that we have to start thinking outside the box,” Klein said.

While the resulting reform package does not include explicit language addressing the youth; Klein believes many of the changes will highly impact young people, particularly when it comes to interactions with police.

As Klein notes, requiring police body cameras, more standardized and formal police training around mental health and racial equality, stricter use of force standards, and a duty to intervene provision that requires an officer to intervene if they see another officer breaking the law should all result in better police youth interactions. “As an officer, if you see something and don’t stop it, you’re now on the hook. That can be huge at stopping police brutality,” Klein said. “There’s just a culmination of several things in this bill that I think are going to make police more aware of their conduct and what’s happening in their surroundings that will ultimately end up leading to improved relations,” Klein said.

In addition to policing reforms, one of the most significant aspects of the bill was the abolition of cash bail. Though there was already no bail in the youth legal system, emerging adults (18-25) will be greatly impacted by eliminating cash bail.

Klein also observes that one of the biggest lessons of the passage of such a sweeping reform package was relying and trusting data that show the validity of these reforms. “The legislators were really swayed by the research. The facts were very clearly on our side. I would advise other advocates to rely on the research, and when legislators decide to rely on those facts rather than persuasion from the other side - stand by them.”

Moving forward, JJI’s policy priorities will center around:

  • Setting a reasonable minimum age including prohibiting the pre-trial detention of young children younger and limiting pre-trial detention to cases involving a serious threat to the physical safety of a person(s) in the community or a demonstrated willful failure to appear in court;
  • Raising the age from 15 to 18 to require lawyers for all children under age 18 throughout interrogation in murder/sex offense investigations that could trigger adult sentencing;
  • Providing a legal privilege for communications in restorative justice proceedings; and
  • Requiring a hearing in youth court to prosecute a child under age 18 in adult court.


To learn more about the Juvenile Justice Initiative, visit them online and on Facebook, Twitter.

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