We are continuing our review of law changes that took effect on Jan. 1. Our focus is on the changes to the juvenile justice system. Illinois and other states have taken up President Barack Obama’s call to change the focus of the entire criminal justice system from, for example, the harsh penalties of the War on Drugs to a system that takes individual circumstances into account and works toward rehabilitation.
We started the discussion in our last post with changes to the criteria for passing a juvenile case on to adult court. That was just the first of many modifications.
More judicial discretion: Judges will no longer be hamstrung by strict sentencing guidelines for juveniles. Judges may now consider, among other things, the offender’s age, cognitive ability, home life and potential for rehabilitation when making sentencing decisions. The new paradigm also allows judges to increase penalties for juveniles who use a gun in the commission of a crime against a police officer, corrections worker or paramedic.
No mandatory life sentences: Illinois no longer requires life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles convicted of murder. That does not mean that the sentence is off the table entirely. Rather, the new law allows judges to consider mitigating factors similar to those listed above.
No detention centers for misdemeanors: Lawmakers recognize that sending a young offender to a juvenile detention facility may do more harm than good. Indeed, many offenders spend their teens in and out of juvenile detention — recidivism, then, is a major risk, if not a given. In an effort to short-circuit the cycle (and to save tax dollars), low-level offenders will no longer be sentenced to juvenile detention.
Further, offenders age 13 and under may avoid contact with the corrections system altogether. The new law requires officials to place younger offenders in community-based programs whenever possible. The programs will provide counseling and other services designed to change their behavior, to help them make better choices in the future.
Other laws: A number of other criminal laws have been amended. We will get into those changes in future posts.
Source: Chicago Tribune, “New Illinois laws aim to keep teens out of prison system,” Monique Garcia, Dec. 31, 2015