Disparities with Automatic Adult Prosecutions in Cook County, Illinois

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A new study by the Juvenile Justice Initiative reviews three years of data for children under the age of 17 who were automatically tried as adults in Cook County, Illinois. Since 1982 juvenile court does not have to review the decision of whether a child will be convicted as an adult in Illinois. Regardless of background, mental or physical health, or any other factor, children aged 15 or 16 would automatically be tried as adults for certain offenses. Automatic adult prosecutions result in longer sentences and criminal records that hinder the child’s future education and job opportunities.

Key findings of the article are as follows:
• 90 percent of cases automatically transferred were from guilty pleadings with no review and no trial
• Over the course of the 3 year study, only one white child was automatically tried as an adult, making the process overly adverse for minority children
• The chances of a child committing more crimes increases by 34 percent if the child is tried as an adult
• Youth development research does not support trying children as adults

The researchers of this study purport that Illinois should bring back its system of review for individual defendants to determine whether being tried as an adult is appropriate. At this time, Illinois’ automatic transfer system does not align with other states and it yields negative results for children, victims, taxpayers, and public safety.

Patrice Garnette, Joint Center Graduate Scholar, The George Washington University Law School

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