Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle Introduces Resolution Urging the Illinois General Assembly to End the Automatic Transfer of Children to Adult Court

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle today introduced a resolution to the County Board urging the Illinois General Assembly to pass HB172. The bill would restore judicial discretion by ending the automatic transfer of young people charged with certain serious crimes to adult court. At a December 12th event, with the presence and support of representatives from the White House and the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Preckwinkle stated that ending automatic transfers is her top criminal justice priority in Springfield in the coming session.

The resolution, co-sponsored by ten Cook County Commissioners, was deferred to the Legislation Committee and will be voted on in the February meeting.

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 serious crimes, including first degree murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault, and armed robbery committed with a firearm. According to the most recent data from the Public Defender regarding young people automatically transferred to adult court in the last 14 months, only 23% were charged with either first degree murder or aggravated criminal sexual assault, while nearly 50% were charged with armed robbery with a firearm.

“Before the misguided 1982 law was passed, judges decided whether a young person would answer certain serious charges as a child in need of intervention and rehabilitation or as an adult. Now, young people are automatically tried as adults based solely on the charge brought by the prosecutor. The child receives no hearing to determine whether they are better served in the juvenile system or in the adult system,” Preckwinkle said.

“When judicial discretion is removed from the criminal justice process, as in the case in Automatic Transfers, the outcomes for individuals and communities are worse. Studies have shown that recidivism rates for young people who are prosecuted as adults are 34% higher than those with similar records who were prosecuted as juveniles. I believe that every child in Illinois deserves a fair hearing in front of a juvenile court judge to determine whether their case is more appropriately handled in juvenile or adult court.”

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. 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.

The law also has a disproportionate impact on children of color. On October 31, 2014, 86% of the automatic transfer youth in the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center were African-American, and 14% were Hispanic. Of the 257 young people automatically transferred in the three years of the study; only one of them was white.

Preckwinkle also noted the increased costs associated with the automatic transfer law. Adult criminal courts take longer to adjudicate a case than juvenile courts. The average stay for a young person tried as a juvenile is about 25 days, which costs approximately $15,000. That same young person tried as an adult as the result of the automatic transfer law stays in the JTDC for an average of 220 days at a cost of $132,000. “That is money that we could be re-investing into community based programming, job-readiness and educational programs for our young people,” Preckwinkle said.

“I am proud to co-sponsor this important resolution with President Preckwinkle, said Cook County Commissioner Stanley Moore (4th District). As a member of the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC) Advisory Council, I have seen the enormous impact this policy has on our juvenile justice system and our youth. Every child, regardless of the crime, deserves a fair hearing before being prosecuted as an adult.”

HB172 was filed in the Illinois General Assembly by Representative Elaine Nekritz, and co-sponsored by Representative Barbara Flynn Currie. Preckwinkle pledged to work with Nekritz, Currie and any other interested party to end automatic transfers in the coming session.

Passage of HB172 is one of my top priorities in this year's legislative session. It places the decision about the appropriate venue to hear evidence and weigh penalties against a juvenile where it belongs - in the hands of a juvenile court judge, Nekritz said.

The full text of the resolution is below:




WHEREAS, the nation’s first juvenile court was created in Cook County 115 years ago, based on the understanding that children are different and should be treated differently than adults; and

WHEREAS, scientific research has proven that the adolescent brain is not fully developed in the areas that regulate rational decision making and impulse control; and

WHEREAS, 705 ILCS 405/5 130 of the Juvenile Court Act, mandates that youth predominantly 15 and older, but as young as 13, automatically be tried as adults, in adult court, facing adult sentences, based solely on the charge brought, which is at the exclusive discretion of the prosecutor; and

WHEREAS, Illinois is one of only 14 states that do not require a hearing in front of a juvenile court judge before a child is transferred to adult court; and

WHEREAS, according to a study by the Illinois Juvenile Justice Initiative (JJI), since the passage of the Automatic Transfer statute in 1982, transfers to adult court have increased from 57 annually to 86 annually as of 2012; and

WHEREAS, the number of youth charged as Automatic Transfers increased dramatically after the passage of “Raise the Age” legislation from 96 in 2013 to 178 in 2014; and

WHEREAS, Automatic Transfer of youth to adult court has a direct impact on the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC) in which the average daily population of transferred youth has nearly doubled over the last year from 72 to 138; and

WHEREAS, according to the JJI study, the implementation of Automatic Transfer has resulted in more children being transferred to adult court for less serious crimes as compared to when judges made the transfer decisions; and

WHEREAS, Automatic Transfer has an extreme disproportionate impact on children of color. In a three year sample of automatic transfers in Cook County, only 83% of youth transferred were African American, and only one youth was white; and

WHEREAS, approximately 54% of Automatic Transfer youth in the three year study by JJI ultimately pled guilty to lesser charges that if originally charged would have been prosecuted in juvenile court; and

WHEREAS, Adult court cases are processed at a much slower pace than juvenile cases with an average time to disposition of 369 days for Automatic Transfer youth whose cases where disposed of in the last year; and

WHEREAS, according to a 2007 survey by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention children prosecuted as adults are 34% more likely to reoffend than children with similar criminal histories who are prosecuted in juvenile court for similar offenses; and

WHEREAS, “The Consequences of Transfer” a study published by the University of Chicago Press, found that children prosecuted as adults are more likely to commit more serious new crimes at a faster rate than those tried in juvenile court; and

WHEREAS, according to analysis by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice there is no correlation between the transferring of juveniles to adult court and the drop in youth violence across the country; and

WHEREAS, the United Nation Human Rights Committee urged the U.S. to end prosecution of juveniles in adult court; and

WHEREAS, the Supreme Court of Illinois in People v. Patterson, urged the legislature to reform the automatic transfer statute in Illinois stating “While modern research has recognized the effect that the unique qualities and characteristics of youth may have on juveniles’ judgment and actions, the automatic transfer provision does not. Indeed, the mandatory nature of that statute denies this reality. Accordingly, we strongly urge the General Assembly to review the automatic transfer provision based on the current scientific and sociological evidence indicating a need for the exercise of judicial discretion in determining the appropriate setting for the proceedings in these juvenile cases”; and

WHEREAS, automatic transfer prevents any consideration by a judge of the particular characteristics of a child, the crime, or the child’s role in the crime in determining the appropriate venue for sentencing; and

WHEREAS, automatically transferring youth accused of certain crimes ignores the scientific research and the underlying philosophy of the juvenile court; and

WHEREAS, Every child in Illinois deserves a fair hearing in front of a juvenile court judge to determine whether their case is more appropriately handled in juvenile or adult court; and

WHEREAS, it is in the best interest of justice to restore judicial discretion in all decisions relating to the transfer of a child to adult court;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Cook County Board of Commissioners does hereby urge the Illinois General Assembly to pass HB 172, which ends the Automatic Transfer of youth to adult court and restores judicial discretion, by requiring a hearing in front of a juvenile court judge to determine whether a child is suitable for the rehabilitative focus of the juvenile court or should be transferred to adult court and sentenced as an adult; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that a suitable copy of the Resolution be tendered to the Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives and the President of the Illinois Senate.


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