Currently, children as young as 10 are held behind bars while awaiting trial in Illinois, and now, juvenile justice reform groups are calling for the minimum age to be set at 13.
Legislation to raise the age from 10 to 13, House Bill 111, passed in the House of Representatives but stalled in the state Senate this spring.
Luis Klein, executive director of the Juvenile Justice Initiative in Evanston, said children under 13 should be released to their parents while awaiting trial.
“International human rights instruments, such as the Convention of the Rights of the Child, called for an end of prosecution, let alone detention, of young children under the age of 14,” Klein pointed out. “Canada ended prosecution of children under the age of 12 in 1984. And Germany has long ended prosecution of children under the age of 14.”
Illinois currently has no minimum age for criminal prosecution. Children up to 18 are tried in juvenile court. Reform groups would like to allow youths under 21 charged with misdemeanors to be tried as juveniles rather than in the adult court system. A bill to adopt the change passed the House this spring, but it, too, died in the state Senate.
Opponents in the law enforcement community cited concerns about rising crime and accountability.
Rep. Robyn Gabel, D-Evanston, said incarceration traumatizes young people who are already in crisis.
“Research shows that this event changes the trajectory of a child’s life,” Gabel stressed. “They are more likely to have poor life outcomes; recidivism, to drop out of high school, to be unemployed, and to have behavioral health problems. That’s something that is unconscionable.”
Nate Balis, director of the Juvenile Justice Strategy Group for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said the focus of the juvenile justice system needs to pivot from punishment to rehabilitation for youths.
“Our job is to help them pursue their hopes and dreams,” Balis asserted. “As opposed to just, ‘How can we stop them from doing this bad thing?’ That’s when the system can become more humane.”
Advocates stated they would like to see both bills be reintroduced when the legislature convenes for its next regular session in January.
Disclosure: The Juvenile Justice Initiative contributes to our fund for reporting on Children’s Issues, Criminal Justice, Juvenile Justice, and Youth Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest,
One goal of youth and family support services is to keep kids out of juvenile detention, but for those who are accused of serious crimes, Pennsylvania doesn’t have enough space in its detention centers, and it is being described as a crisis.
A report by the Juvenile Court Judges’ Commission outlined the effects of facility closures on accessibility to services. Since 2006, some 15 juvenile detention centers have closed in the state.
Abigail Wilson, director of child welfare, juvenile justice, and education services for the Pennsylvania Council of Children, Youth, and Family Services, explained a few factors contributing to the lack of available beds.
“Sometimes the youth need doesn’t match the facility that they’re being sent to,” Wilson pointed out. “Sometimes there are staffing challenges because, in detention centers, there has to be a certain staff-to-youth ratio. And if they can’t meet that, they can’t continue to accept youth. There are sometimes medical concerns that can’t be addressed at the facility.”
She noted most recently, COVID has added to the complications. There are now 14 facilities providing secure detention services across the state, and 61 of 67 counties must vie for beds at just seven of them. The report showed staff shortages mean not all the beds can be used.
In the meantime, experts emphasized detention is never the ideal solution for a troubled youth. Wilson argued more mental health treatment, support for rebuilding family relationships and greater community involvement can all help contribute to preventing young people from entering the juvenile justice system or being placed in detention, but it takes funding and coordination.
“Building community-based centers, and places where families can come and receive help without stigmatized feeling, or feeling judged in a certain way,” Wilson suggested. “Screening and assessment for mental health or needs, education or tutoring services are helpful; crisis intervention, family counseling.”
Another consequence of the detention-bed shortage is young people often must be housed out of their home county, which puts a strain on families as well as juvenile probation departments.
Disclosure: The Pennsylvania Council of Children, Youth and Family Services contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Children’s Issues, Education, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest,
Young people who have run-ins with the juvenile justice system are more likely to end up in the adult system. The Michigan Task Force on Juvenile Justice Reform has approved a set of recommendations this week to change that.
The goals are to improve community safety, reduce disparities and improve outcomes. The recommendations range from expanding diversion programs and funding community-based alternatives to incarceration, to creating a statewide juvenile public defense system and increasing data collection to identify racial disparities, said Jason Smith, executive director of the Michigan Center for Youth Justice.
“We are extremely happy,” he said, “that the recommendation to eliminate fines and fees – juvenile court fees that impose huge immense burdens on young people and families – that that was included in the recommendations and voted on unanimously, including by judges and prosecutors.”
Smith noted that the task force was comprised of court administrators, judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys, advocates, and young people and their families. He said he hopes legislators will make these recommendations into law as soon as possible.
Other recommendations include creating an advisory board of young people and their families to guide changes in the future, as well as strengthening standards for probation and residential programs.
State Sen. Sylvia Santana, D-Detroit, said the goal is to keep young people in the juvenile-justice system from entering the adult system when they are old enough.
“I think whatever we can do as a legislative body to make sure that we are putting in the necessary tools and supports to redirect that behavior,” she said, “but also redirect them towards a path forward, versus a proverbial cycle of being part of the criminal-justice system.”
She said investing in youths while they are young will save Michigan money in the long run. One study shows keeping just one child from dropping out of school, using drugs and entering the system can save more than $2.5 million.
The start of the fall semester is just around the corner for Illinois students. As children return to class, one advocate is urging school administrators to consider alternatives to traditional disciplinary measures.
Michelle Day, founder and CEO of Nehemiah Trinity Rising, a nonprofit helping organizations build and implement restorative-justice practices, has worked extensively with schools in the Chicago area. She encouraged other school systems across the state to consider adopting restorative-justice approaches in lieu of traditional punitive discipline programs.
“And when you do that, then you can have a restorative environment that engenders the type of behaviors and type of results that improve not only the safety of the school but the education for the children,” Day asserted.
Restorative justice can take many forms, but most commonly it is based on reconciliation and constructively addressing the harm one student may have caused another without resorting to traditional punishments, such as suspension or detention. The Chicago Public School system offers a free online restorative justice guide to help teachers and administrators apply the principle.
Day explained integrating restorative justice into schools should be a top-down, holistic process, and everyone from cafeteria workers to school administrators should understand how it works. She added school leaders should not feel discouraged if they do not see immediate results.
“It takes approximately three to five years to change a school environment,” Day acknowledged. “But when you do, the results are astounding.”
According to the National Education Policy Center, restorative-justice programs could help reduce racial disparities in school discipline. A 2021 study from the University of Pittsburgh revealed Black students were “grossly overrepresented in rates of school suspensions for minor disciplinary infractions.”
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August 31, 2022 at 07:03AM