New Study Exposes Racial Inequality in Illinois’ Juvenile Justice System

A new non-partisan review of the Cook County juvenile justice system has discovered that Illinois’ automatic transfer law has had the unintended consequence of unfairly disadvantaging minority youths. The findings in this study indicate the unfairness of the juvenile justice system, which can have lasting and severe impacts on a family’s most vulnerable members: its children.

What are Automatic Transfer Laws?

Transfer laws require or permit juveniles to be both prosecuted and sentenced as adults, and not in the juvenile court system. Depending on the state a “juvenile” is defined as a young adult who has not reached his or her 18th birthday, while other states lower the age to a juvenile’s 16th or 17th birthday. During the 1980s and 1990s the transfer laws were greatly expanded through the inclusion of additional offenses that triggered the law, the development of automatic transfers, the shifting of the transfer privilege from the courts to the prosecutors, and also by the lowering of the requisite age for triggering a transfer. Enacted in 1982, Illinois’ automatic transfer law requires that juveniles between the ages of 15 and 17 be tried in adult criminal court if they are charged with committing certain crimes, including murder, aggravated criminal assault, armed robbery, and/or aggravated battery with a firearm.

Findings by the Juvenile Justice Initiative

Created in 2000 with an endowment from the MacArthur Foundation, the Juvenile Justice Initiative was created for the purpose of providing policy guidance regarding Illinois’ current juvenile justice system. The Initiative, in its recent study, found that the Illinois automatic transfer law was having a discriminatory effect, preventing judges from properly exercising judicial discretion and creating greater possibilities that already convicted juveniles would commit future violent crimes.

The study involved the review of 257 Cook County cases during the years of 2010-2012. All of the cases involved juveniles that were subject to the automatic transfer law. The findings from the study were significant and highlighted the prevalence of racial disparity in the prosecution of juveniles as adults. It was discovered that 83 percent of the defendants were African-American, and 16 percent were Hispanics. Significantly, most of these children were from predominantly minority neighborhoods in Chicago’s south and west sides.

Furthermore, it was discovered that over 50 percent of the juveniles subject to the automatic transfer law ended up pleading guilty to lesser charges that they would not have faced but for the triggering of the automatic transfer law. The study also found that the legal process surrounding the automatic transfer cases also had unfair effects on the criminal prosecution of juveniles. In the prosecution of such cases, juveniles are questioned by the police, without the right of having a lawyer present, which is a right given only to adults. From there, the juvenile makes his or her statement, but is still tried as an adult. Typically, the child, without any guidance from an attorney, ends up pleading to a lesser offense in order to receive a set sentence without a trial or hearing.

Contact an Attorney for Help

The Juvenile Justice Initiative’s study indicates that Illinois’ automatic transfer law unintentionally creates unfair disadvantages for minority juveniles. The law’s application is similarly unfair because it treats children like adults, without giving them the right to an attorney. Hopefully in the upcoming year the Initiative will produce policy suggestions to mitigate the discriminatory effects of this law, which undoubtedly has had a lasting and negative impact on the lives of Illinois’ young juveniles. Contact a legal professional Goldman & Associates today to help overcome any charges faced by your loved one. Attorney Steven Goldman has experience representing juveniles, and can provide a vigorous defense for your child.

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