Illinois Teen Prosecutions: ‘Like Killing Flies With Sledgehammers’


Illinois routinely prosecutes teenage nonviolent offenders in adult court, says the Chicago Reporter. The paper’s analysis of court data found that 17-year-olds convicted of felonies in the state defy the perception that they are violent criminals who deserve to be punished alongside adults. More than half of 17-year-olds prosecuted in Cook County's adult courts were convicted for drug deals and property theft. Include robbery without a gun, and nonviolent offenses amount to 71 percent of all convictions. The single largest number of convictions was based on low-level drug offenses.

Illinois is one of 12 states to automatically prosecute minors facing felony charges in the adult penal system. Over the past decade, fewer states are prosecuting minors as adults, and a state commission is now trying to figure out whether Illinois should be next. “In no other arena are we willing to look at 17-year-olds as adults,” said Randell Strickland, the Illinois disproportionate minority contact coordinator of the McArthur Foundation's Models for Change program. As a member of the state's Juvenile Justice Commission, he's hoping the research nudges lawmakers to transition the teens into the juvenile system. “We're killing flies with sledgehammers.”

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