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2016 introduces a kinder, gentler Illinois for juvenile offenders

A host of new laws took effect on Jan. 1 that will change the way the Illinois justice system works. From high-profile laws dealing with police body cameras to less newsworthy (but equally important) directives regarding training programs to improve how police interact with individuals with mental illness, these new laws cover a wide range of criminal justice matters. Critics, in fact, say that the General Assembly's work was unfocused, if not scattershot, at a time when real change is necessary.

What those critics may have overlooked, though, is the beginning of an overhaul of the juvenile justice system, an unusual bipartisan effort in a partisan-riddled session. This first package of law changes reflects a nationwide shift in attitude toward both juvenile and adult offenders: Rather than retribution, policymakers now believe the focus should be diversion and rehabilitation.

Age matters: In the past, a juvenile 15 or older charged with any of five serious crimes would automatically be transferred to adult court. The same was true for a juvenile with an adult conviction on his or her record.

The new law redraws the age line: Now, prosecution of any offender under age 16 starts in juvenile court -- even if the accused has been tried and convicted as an adult on another charge. The new law also reduces the number of serious crimes to three: A charge of first-degree murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault or aggravated battery with a firearm will automatically transfer a juvenile age 16 or older to adult court.

We will continue this in our next post.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "New Illinois laws aim to keep teens out of prison system," Monique Garcia, Dec. 31, 2015

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Darryl A. Goldberg
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