Law Diverting 17-Year-Olds Facing Felony Offense to Juvenile Court Advances Rehabilitation

TASC President Pamela Rodriguez

TASC President Pamela Rodriguez

(Chicago) – A new law permitting 17-year-olds charged with felony crimes to be tried in juvenile rather than adult court is a key Illinois juvenile justice reform that emphasizes rehabilitation of youth over more strict punitive measures, says a top Illinois justice advocacy group.

The law, House Bill 2404, signed by Governor Pat Quinn on July 8 directs 17-year-olds charged with felonies to juvenile courts where rehabilitative services are available.

“This bill treats young people as evidence suggests we should, offering a rehabilitative approach consistent with national trends that reflect a growing understanding of youth development,” said Pamela Rodriguez, president of the Center for Health and Justice at TASC.

“Handling youth who have offended in juvenile court will shrink the risk that 17-year-olds, charged with a felony, will become entrenched in the criminal justice and correctional systems and boost the chance that they will emerge as assets to their community,” Rodriguez added.

The Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, of which Rodriguez is a member, released an impact study earlier this year urging Illinois to join the 38 other states that steer 17-year-olds charged with felony offenses to juvenile court.

“We applaud Governor Quinn for recognizing the merit in the bill. Diverting 17-year olds from adult felony courts and the Illinois prison system, which are ill-equipped to look after the needs of youth, will help them get back on track and yield costs savings through prevented incarcerations,” Rodriguez said. “Juvenile court provides a win-win for both the youth and taxpayers.”

Rodriguez also spotlighted the efforts of the law’s sponsors, Illinois House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) and State Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago).

“Thanks to Representative Currie and Senator Steans’ leadership, they were able to secure broad, bipartisan support for the legislation,” said Rodriguez. “The political consensus in Illinois stands behind juvenile justice reform.”

The bill takes effect on January 1, 2014.

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