Legislation is making its way through the Illinois House that could help change the trajectory for some kids in legal trouble. House Bill 1468 would raise the minimum age for juvenile detention from 10 to 13.
George Timberlake, chairman of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, said research shows detention is harmful for young children, with long-lasting impacts on mental and physical health as well as education and future employment.
"No 10-year-old should be in jail," he said, "and let's be very clear that detention is secured confinement. It is behind locked doors; there are limitations on contact with people other than the staff and clients inside a detention center."
Raising the detention age to 13 also would make it consistent with the minimum age to sentence youths to the Department of Juvenile Justice. In 2017, the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission found 167 kids younger than age 13 were held in detention, including 29 who were 11, and three 10-year-olds. Opponents of the change say the small percentage of children under age 13 in detention are there for significant issues.
At the Center for Criminal Justice Research, Policy, and Practice at Loyola University, program manager Lisa Jacobs cited a range of detention alternatives, including community-based programs with mental-health, substance-abuse and trauma services, and crisis-stabilization plans.
"This legislation creates urgency around making sure that network of detention alternatives is as strong as it can possibly be," said Jacobs, who also is vice-chair of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission. "And if there are gaps - and that's why we're seeing young children be introduced into secure detention - then we have an opportunity to figure out why those gaps exist and fill them."
There are also concerns that alternatives are costly, and could result in young people re-offending. Timberlake recalled that similar arguments were made before Illinois raised its age of juvenile jurisdiction to 18.
"There were these same kind of outpourings: It's going to cost a huge amount of money, kids are going to now be exposed to more hardened criminals," he said. "It didn't happen; it did not cost more money. The crime rate continues to go down, and it has not affected the practice of prosecutors, judges and public defenders."
In 2018, Cook County passed an ordinance prohibiting detention of kids under age 13.
The text of HB 1468 is online at ilga.gov.