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Lawmakers Consider Raising Age Limit for IL Juvenile Justice


If you’re under 21 and have been convicted of a crime, you might wind up serving time in the juvenile justice system instead of an adult jail. Illinois state lawmakers are considering a measure that would raise the system's age limit from 18 to no more than 20.

Proponents say they want the law changed so that the punishment matches the crime. In a House judiciary hearing, they pointed to research that says a person’s brain isn’t mature until age 26.  Their point — if a person can’t think about their crime like an adult, then they shouldn’t serve time like an adult. 

Matt Jones of the Illinois State’s Attorneys Association spoke against the change. He says the research is solid, but the conclusions are faulty. 
“It is not nearly as clear cut as, all of a sudden, at age 26 their brains are fully formed. A 13-year-old brain is different than a 16-year-old brain is different than a 20-year-old brain,” he said.
If it becomes law, the age limit would be steadily increased over the next two years, and would only apply to misdemeanor offenses. Prosecutors could still seek transfer of the case to adult court, and a judge could decide if adult prison is warranted on a case-by-case basis. 
While it passed out of committee, the plan still needs both House and Senate approval. 

Sam is a Public Affairs Reporting intern for spring 2018, working out the NPR Illinois Statehouse bureau.
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