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Illinois Recently Makes Big Move in Juvenile Justice Reform, Michigan Lags

Up until the beginning of the New Year, any teen arrested for any felony offense in Illinois could be placed in a jail cell with adults until their case went to trial. In some cases this was a day or two, but in others it meant that juveniles were spending months behind bars with adult offenders. Of course, while a juvenile is in an adult jail, they are missing out on family and social life, as well as their education. Ironically, these support networks are some of the things that are actually proven to help young adults remain out of trouble.

More serious than housing the alleged juvenile offenders with their adult counterparts is the fact that these juveniles were being tried as adults for their alleged felonies. Illinois’ policy allowed for any juvenile charged with a felony to be prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system. This meant that 17-year-olds were facing adult penalties, up to life in prison. These policies led Chicago to be the number one large city for juvenile incarceration. However, according to a recent article by the Huffington Post, Illinois has reconsidered its plan when it comes to juvenile justice.

Illinois’ New Plan for Juvenile Felony Offenders Starting on January 1, 2014, only those minors who are accused of committing the most serious of crimes–rape, murder, etc.–can be tried in adult court. All other alleged juvenile offenders must be tried in the Illinois juvenile justice system, even for felony charges.

This is critically important not just for the individuals accused of these cases, but for society as a whole. The adult criminal justice system is focused on punishment. The theory goes: if someone breaks the law, society will place them in jail or prison to:

  • Protect society while the offender is in jail; and
  • Keep the offender in jail as a punishment for their actions.

These two statements further the goals of “incapacitation” and “deterrence” rather than “rehabilitation.”

However, the juvenile justice system is focused more on identifying problems and correcting behavior. This puts the focus on rehabilitation, rather than the other more punitive approaches. By keeping troubled youth in a system that is designed to rehabilitate, rather than punish, we ensure that juvenile offenders will be given a chance to turn their lives around and become productive member of society.

Michigan Juvenile Justice Laws Still Lag Behind Unfortunately, Michigan juvenile justice laws are still behind the curve. In Michigan, minors as young as 14 can be charged in adult court and face adult sentences, if they commit certain felony offenses. In order for a minor to be charged as an adult, the following must occur:

  • The alleged offense must be a felony;
  • The juvenile prosecutor must request that the juvenile be charged as an adult; and
  • After considering a list of factors, the judge must agree that it is best to charge the juvenile in adult court.

If those three things happen, then your child can be tried as an adult in Michigan and face adult punishments, including lengthy prison sentences.

Has Your Child Been Charged With a Criminal Offense in Michigan? If your child has recently been charged with a criminal offense in Michigan, there is a very real possibility that he or she will be charged as an adult unless immediate action is taken. To speak to an experienced Michigan juvenile defense attorney and discuss the facts of your case, call (248) 266-8720, or contact the firm online.

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