SPRINGFIELD — Illinois should stop automatically treating 17-year-olds charged with felonies as adults, a state juvenile justice advisory group recommended Tuesday.
The Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, a 24-member advisory group chaired by retired chief judge George Timberlake of Mount Vernon, issued its report after examining the impact of a 2010 change in state law.
Before 2010, anyone older than 16 charged with any type of crime was treated as an adult and went through the adult court system.
In 2010, the General Assembly reached a compromise — 17-year-olds charged with misdemeanors would be handled in the juvenile justice courts, and 17-year-olds charged with felonies would be prosecuted as adults.
Most states set 18 as the default age when criminal defendants will be treated as an adult. Illinois is one of 12 states with a lower age, the commission reported.
The Illinois commission recommended that “in the interest of fairness and public safety,” all 17-year-olds charged with any type of crime should be handled in juvenile courts, except those transferred to adult court for specific serious offenses.
“Instead of drawing a wise, safe or clear distinction between minor and serious offenses, the Illinois law splitting 17-year-olds between two court systems caused confusion, and jurisdictional questions still regularly arise when 17-year-olds are arrested,” the commission found.
Now that research demonstrates that the Illinois juvenile justice system “can manage the addition of 17-year-olds charged with felonies, it’s time to complete the reform,” Timberlake said in a prepared statement.