Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle Calls for Restoring Judicial Discretion and Ending the Illinois Law Automatically Transferring Young People from Juvenile to Adult Court

Friday’s event marks the beginning of Cook County’s participation in the White House-led “My Brother’s Keeper” Initiative to address opportunity gaps for young men of color

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle today called for restoring judicial discretion and ending the Illinois law that automatically transfers children charged with certain felony offenses from juvenile court into adult criminal court. Preckwinkle was joined by Robert L. Listenbee, Administrator of the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Illinois State Representative Elaine Nekritz, sponsor of HB 4538, which would eliminate all forms of transfer other than discretionary, and Illinois State Senator Kwame Raoul.

“The automatic transfer law is a deeply unfair practice that disproportionately impacts youth of color and drives a significant percentage of the population of Cook County’s Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. Automatic transfers are devastating to our young people and our communities,” Preckwinkle said. “We have a responsibility to ensure a juvenile justice system that is fair and responsive to our young people. The lack of due process robs young people of the fair hearing to determine whether or not they are suitable for the juvenile system’s rehabilitative opportunities.”

Preckwinkle reiterated her commitment to working with Representative Elaine Nekritz to see HB 4538 passed in the house and called it her top criminal justice priority in Springfield for the coming session. The bill would end all forms of transfer other than discretionary.

Automatic transfers represent a serious encroachment on judicial discretion. I look forward to working with President Preckwinkle and my colleagues in the General Assembly to enact these overdue reforms in the next session, Nekritz said.

The speech also marked the beginning of Cook County’s participation in the White House-led “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, which aims to address the persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensure that all young people can reach their full potential.

About the Automatic Transfer Law

The automatic transfer law was enacted by the Illinois General Assembly in 1982. Under the law, children, predominantly aged 15-17, but as young as 13 in some instances, must be prosecuted as adults if they are charged with certain crimes, including first degree murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault, and armed robbery committed with a firearm.

Illinois is one of only 14 states which do not require an initial hearing in juvenile court prior to a youth being transferred to criminal court. There is also no option in Illinois for judges to reverse the transfer based on circumstances, background, applicability of the charge, etc.

A three-year study of the Cook County court system conducted by the Juvenile Justice Initiative found that 50% more children were transferred to adult courts after the passage of the automatic transfer law, and for less serious offenses. Prior to the 1982 law, 48% of all young people transferred to adult court were charged with murder. Since that time, only 13% of those transferred are charged with murder. Ultimately, 54% of all young people who are automatically transferred are convicted of or plead guilty to lesser charges that would have remained in juvenile court if those were the original charges brought.

Youth who are automatically transferred make up a sizeable and growing percentage of the young people held in Cook County’s Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC). The average daily population of automatic transferred young people in the JTDC increased from 72 in December of 2013 to 130 in October of 2014 and now comprises more than a third of the population.

“Automatic transfers eliminate judicial discretion and have a disproportionate impact on children of color,” Preckwinkle said. On October 31, 2014, 86% of the automatic transfer youth in the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center were African-American, and 14% were Hispanic.

Recidivism rates for young people who are prosecuted as adults are 34% higher than those with similar records who were prosecuted as juveniles.

About the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative

President Obama launched the My Brother’s Keeper initiative to address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensure that all young people can reach their full potential. The My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge is an effort to encourage communities (including cities, counties, suburbs, rural municipalities, and tribal nations) to implement a coherent cradle-to-college and career strategy aimed at improving life outcomes for all young people to ensure that all youth can achieve their full potential, regardless of who they are, where they come from, or the circumstances into which they are born. The Challenge is a call to action for leaders of communities across the Nation to build and execute comprehensive strategies that ensure:

  •  All children enter school cognitively, physically, socially, and emotionally prepared;
  • All children read at grade level by third grade;
  • All young people graduate from high school;
  • All young people complete post-secondary education or training;
  • All youth out of school are employed; and
  • All young people are safe from violent crime.

“At the heart of the President’s message is the need to keep young black and brown boys and men in school and on track to complete high school and postsecondary education and training,” Preckwinkle said. “We have answered the President’s call to action. We are determined to end unfair laws that prevent young boys and men of color from reaching their educational and professional potential. We want to start by ending the automatic transfer of juveniles to adult court.”


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