Illinois Juvenile Justice and Reform

The juvenile justice system in the United States works differently than the adult criminal justice system, and in Illinois, there is work being done to prevent juvenile crime and break the cycle of violence. Keep reading for more information.

Overview

In general, the juvenile court system is focused on education and reintegration into society instead of punishment. The law considers most minors to be unable to know the difference between right and wrong, or they committed the crime as a childish reaction to abuse or threat.

For example, if a child stabs one parent because they are abusing the other, then the judge may see merit in removing the child from home and putting them under the care of a court-appointed guardian.

On the other hand, if there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the child acted on their own and knew what they were doing, the judge may consider sending the child to a detention center where they will be observed for behavioral and mental health purposes.

In rare cases, a juvenile offender may be charged as an adult if the crime was especially violent or committed with forethought. If the child from the first example stabbed one parent for no reason but to commit violence, they are ineligible for release and may be monitored or even tried as an adult.

The court rarely tries a juvenile as an adult, and there must be significant evidence against them that clearly shows the child understood the gravity of their actions and/or acted out a plan or fantasy.

Defining Innocence

As mentioned in the previous section, minor offenders are only tried as adults or put in a juvenile detention center if it’s clear that they acted of their own free will and were aware that they were doing something wrong.

There are no specific details that need to be present in a case for it to become more serious – the prosecutor only has to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the offender was aware of their actions. However, some cases are more difficult to defend than others.

For example, in the case of Brenda Spencer, it was clear that she knew exactly what she was doing and planned the mass shooting a the preschool across the street. The crime happened in the late 1970s and was the first large-scale school shooting.

Another more recent example includes Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser. The girls lured their classmate into the woods and proceeded to stab her nearly 20 times as a sacrifice to the fictional monster Slender Man. The victim, Payton Leutner, survived, but both Weier and Geyser were tried and convicted in adult court.

Especially violent cases like Brenda Spencer’s and the Slender Man stabbing are complicated. Both instances have evidence that the offender acted of their own free will, but there is also significant evidence suggesting that mental illness could have contributed.

Ultimately the prosecution was able to provide more substantial evidence for conviction as adults. As mentioned previously, juvenile cases rarely go to adult court, but that doesn’t mean these cases should be taken lightly. Juvenile crimes do have consequences, and without an experienced attorney on hand, a minor could face harsher punishment.

Approach to Juvenile Justice in Illinois

In recent years, it’s become clear that a frightening amount of juvenile offenders are victims of abuse. Abuse can, especially for children, interfere with their emotional development and open the door to violence as a coping mechanism or an outlet for anger and resentment.

Rockford Deputy Chief Kurt Whisenand noticed the frequency of abuse among juvenile defenders and has provided the state with extensive research on the subject. His findings revealed that out of all offenders under 17, nearly 70% had been abused.

As a result of Whisenand’s research, the county decided to devote millions of dollars to overhaul its approach to juvenile crime. By improving the way the community views delinquent children and young people, there is a better chance to spot red flag behavior before it leads to criminal acts.

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