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State of the State is about the effectiveness and culture of Illinois government. Written by Brian Mackey, the blog focuses on key areas of news important to Illinois such as criminal justice and labor.

Why Are Kids More Likely to Give False Confessions?

Trevon Yates interrogation
MacArthur Justice Center
A still image from a video of Trevon Yates' interrogation by St. Clair County investigators.

How do you get a 17-year-old to confess to a crime he didn’t commit? Turns out it’s not that hard.

Two years ago, Trevon Yates confessed to St. Clair County sheriff’s investigators that he took part in a violent armed robbery in Belleville, near East St. Louis. After spending nine months in jail, the charges were dropped and Yates was set free. Last month, the county board agreed to settle a lawsuit with Yates for $900,000.

His case is not unusual.

Today on State of the State, we’re going to find out why the most effective interrogation techniques, when applied to juveniles, often produce false confessions. We'll hear from two attorneys at the Northwestern University School of Law: Laura Nirider, director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth, and Locke Bowman, director of the MacArthur Justice Center. I called and emailed two St. Clair County officials seeking their perspective on the story: State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly and Sheriff Rick Watson. Neither responded.

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Music: "Lonesome," "Heavy Flutter" and "Showers" by Podington Bear. Used under a Creative Commons BY-NC-3.0 license, via WFMU's Free Music Archive.

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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