New Chicago Court for Young Adults Keys on ‘Deep Issues’

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Early next year, Cook County, Ill., will open a Restorative Justice Community Court in the North Lawndale neighborhood to give 18- to 26-year-olds charged with nonviolent misdemeanors and felonies the opportunity to work in the community and to avoid a criminal record, reports the Christian Science Monitor in the last of a three-part series. The court comes amid new research on the mental development of young adults and a growing trend toward alternative courts that make community members part of the justice process. Advocates say that such courts can help address some of the important questions of equity that have plagued the U.S. justice system in recent years.

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Colleen Sheehan, who will preside over the new court, says that she sees the court as a way of getting to some of the deep issues driving young adult crime. The approach is rooted in recent neurological science, which suggests a young person’s reasoning and self-control are not fully developed until they are in their mid-20s. While more cognitively developed than those under 18 – who are generally served by the juvenile justice system, where the focus is more on rehabilitation than punishment – young adults are more impulsive, less able to control their emotions and less likely to think about the consequences of their actions than mature adults. Legislators in Illinois, Connecticut and Vermont considered proposals this year to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 21. None of the proposals were successful, but youth advocates say that the new court in Cook County is a step in the right direction.

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