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New Research Confirms 30-Year Trend of Poor Outcomes and Nearly Exclusive Impact on Minority Youth from Automatic Transfer to Adult Court

Posted in 2014, Research & Policy Tuesday, 22 April 2014

New Research Confirms 30-Year Trend of Poor Outcomes and Nearly Exclusive Impact on Minority Youth from Automatic Transfer to Adult Court


Today the Juvenile Justice Initiative released a new report, "Automatic Adult Prosecution of Children in Cook County, Illinois, 2010-2012". The report finds that only one white youth was among the 257 Cook County children charged with crimes requiring an automatic transfer to adult court in a recent three-year study period, and most of those children live in predominantly minority communities in the south and west sides of Chicago.

Racial disparities are not the only problem. Half the children end up convicted of lesser offenses – offenses that would not have triggered adult trial if charged appropriately at the outset. These poor outcomes and racial disparities have been consistently demonstrated in studies over the 30-year lifetime of these automatic transfer policies.

“Illinois is one of only 14 states to give this kind of extreme power to prosecutors, and we found the Cook County state’s attorney employed it almost exclusively in cases involving minority defendants,” said Elizabeth Clarke, President of the Juvenile Justice Initiative (JJI). “With the stroke of a pen, prosecutors can transform a child into an adult. Time and time again it happens to children of color in Chicago.”

Under the state’s automatic transfer law in effect during the study of 2010 through 2012, anyone age 15 or 16 charged with certain felonies automatically bypasses the more rehabilitation-focused juvenile court, and there is no judicial review or appeal of a prosecutor’s decision to try a child in adult court. Since the time of the study, the age of juvenile court jurisdiction in Illinois was raised to 17, and now 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds can face automatic transfer to adult court when charged with murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault, and several other felony charges.

To review the full report, please visit here.