Preckwinkle’s Key Criminal Justice Initiative, Reducing Automatic Transfers, Wins Approval in Illinois General Assembly

Rep. Nekritz, Sen. Raoul shepherd restoration of judicial discretion through Legislature

The Illinois General Assembly today gave final approval to legislation that will ensure that nearly 70 percent of Cook County youth will no longer be automatically transferred to adult court when facing certain criminal offenses. HB 3718 passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 79-32. The bill previously passed the Senate on May 19.

The legislation will also require data tracking that will bring transparency to the process and finally allow Illinois to meet federal reporting requirements on disproportionate minority contact and transfer.

Restoring judicial discretion in the transfer of youth to adult courts has been Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s top criminal justice initiative this year.

“I am pleased this bill to end an unjust, overbroad, and misguided law received the support of a bipartisan group of legislators,” Preckwinkle said. “I urge the governor to sign the legislation and allow judges to make decisions after hearing from both sides and considering all of the evidence as to whether a child should be tried in adult court or if they are better suited for the rehabilitative nature of juvenile court.”

Under the current law, young people as young as 13, but mostly between the ages of 15-17, are automatically tried as adults based solely on the charge brought by the prosecutor. The youth receives no hearing to determine whether they are better served in the juvenile system or in the adult system.

As it stands now, the law also has a disproportionate impact on children of color. In October 2014, 86 percent of youth in the JTDC who were subject to automatic transfer were African-American, and 14 percent were Hispanic.

Under the new law:

  • Young people under 16 years old will begin their case in juvenile court regardless of the accused crime;

  • 16- and 17-year-olds accused of more serious crimes, specifically murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault, and aggravated battery with a firearm will be automatically transferred to adult court.

  • 15-17 year olds accused of armed robbery, aggravated vehicular hijacking and unlawful use of a weapon on school grounds, who under the current law would be automatically transferred, will remain in juvenile court unless a judge rules they should be transferred.

“I have said repeatedly that 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,” Preckwinkle said. “This legislation narrows the scope of the statute and ensures that children who make one major mistake have an opportunity to redeem themselves.”

Preckwinkle specifically thanked state Rep. Elaine Nekritz, who introduced the original legislation, for her efforts in securing its passage in the House, and state Sen. Kwame Raoul for his work that secured passage in the Senate. She also thanked state’s attorneys from throughout Illinois, as well as juvenile justice advocates, particularly the Juvenile Justice Initiative which conducted the initial study on transfers in Cook County, for their assistance in moving the measure forward.

Judicial review is a critical underpinning of our criminal justice system, and this bill restores that concept to the process for juveniles accused of crimes,” said Rep. Nekritz. “Thank you to my colleagues and the advocates for their support to get this done. I urge the governor to quickly sign this legislation and put these meaningful reforms into action.

“Time and experience have demonstrated that automatic transfer was a bad idea when first implemented and has been bad public policy for more than two decades,” said Sen. Raoul. “I was pleased to join with President Preckwinkle and Rep. Nekritz in moving this important policy change through the Legislature, and I thank them both for their leadership on this issue.”

The bill now awaits action by the governor.


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