It is all too easy for young people to make poor decisions. Drug use, theft, and computer crimes are traps many young people fall into. Neuroscientists estimate that a person’s prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for judgment, does not fully develop until after age 20. Combined with the bad influences surrounding many teens, it is no wonder some teens stumble and find themselves on the wrong side of the law.
However, punishing a person for a lifetime after one youthful mistake is not in anyone’s best interest. Juvenile court, therefore, looks to rehabilitate teens, rather than be overly punitive. Still, teens faced with criminal charges have a lot at stake; a child who spends time in a juvenile detention center is more likely to commit crimes in the future. A 2013 study by Brown University looked at 25,000 former Chicago public school students who committed crimes. Teens who spent time in jail as a minor were 40 percent less likely to graduate from high school, and those same kids were 67 percentage points more likely to spend additional time in an adult correctional facility than kids who committed the same crime but did not do time in jail.
Illinois looking to improve juvenile justice system
Jail, therefore, is perhaps the worst way to try to rehabilitate a child. Still, if left unrepresented children can easily find themselves lost in the system.
In Roosevelt University, for example, the school recently showed students a documentary called “Kids for Cash,” which told the story of a judge in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, who was convicted of money laundering, racketeering, tax evasion and extortion. The judge accepted bribes from for-profit prisons and then sent children to prison for minor charges, such as creating a fake MySpace account or mistakenly buying a stolen scooter. The judge pressured these kids into accepting plea bargains without representation.
Cook County Juvenile Judge Andrew Berman was on hand to discuss the film, reassuring students that things are different in Illinois. However, some teen rights advocates told the Torch that “if you watch this movie and think that something has to change, putting kids in prison is what has to change.”
Automatic transfers of juveniles
While time in a detention center can be detrimental for a teen, many youths are charged as adults – with even greater consequences. In October, 2014, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld the automatic transfer to adult prosecution for a 15 year-old who was living in a state residential home because of a negligent upbringing. While the court upheld the law, the Justices expressed concern over Illinois’ existing law, which does not allow for judicial review for automatic transfers of teens accused of certain crimes. Illinois is one of 14 states that do not impose a judicial review on transfer decisions involving juveniles.
In some areas of Illinois, non-traditional methods may help. For example, recently Kane County implemented a program that will have juveniles charged with non-violent crimes be judged by their peers. The program would allow juveniles who admit to committing a crime to agree to complete peer-assigned sentencing. Such assignments could include writing a letter of apology to the victim or community service in lieu of jail time.
A criminal defense attorney can help
There is so much more at stake when facing criminal charges as a minor than time served or probation. One criminal offense can affect a youth’s education, job prospects and future earning potential. Parents with children facing criminal charges should contact the experienced criminal defense attorney Douglas G. DeBoer to discuss their legal options and protect their rights.