Illinoisans ages 18 to 25 are not children anymore, but many are not quite grown up either.
New research examines how the state can better help these emerging adults in the criminal justice system.
A report released Thursday by the Justice Lab at Columbia University says emerging adults still are experiencing brain development, which makes them more prone to peer influence, risk taking and impulsive behavior.
Report co-author Vincent Schiraldi, co-director of the Justice Lab, says this age group also is more responsive than older adults to rehabilitation and interventions.
However, he adds that emerging adults in Illinois are automatically prosecuted and sentenced in the adult system.
"They're kind of getting eaten alive in those facilities and they're coming out and having terrible outcomes: 78 percent recidivism rate, the highest of any population," he points out. "So we're basically sending them to gladiator schools, schools for crime. It's not good for them and it's not good for us."
Illinois has been experimenting with alternative interventions for justice-involved youth, efforts to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 21 and age-appropriate, community-based programs such as Redeploy Illinois.
And research says the state could build upon this work and provide more tailored, development-appropriate responses for emerging youths as well.
According to the report, emerging adults in Illinois are imprisoned at twice the rate of adults age 25 and older, and the majority are imprisoned for nonviolent offenses.
Schiraldi adds that emerging adults encounter significant barriers upon release, including higher rates of trauma, substance-use disorders and homelessness.
"It's not like they committed murders and horrible crimes," he stresses. "These are exactly the kinds of people you could divert into alternatives, treatment and community programs so that you don't set them down a path of having a permanent record before they've even had a chance to graduate from college."
The research also notes racial disparities. Illinois has one of the highest incarceration rates of African-American emerging adults in the U.S.
Schiraldi says it's higher than both California and New York.
"The over-representation of people of color in America's criminal justice system and in Illinois' justice system is sort of legendary," he states. "But it's even worse when you look at the young adults. They're even more overrepresented than the overall general population."