IL Lawmakers Pass Bill to Prevent Unfair Youth Sentencing

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Illinois could soon be the fourth state to pass a law to prevent unfair youth sentencing. The legislation encourages criminal courts to recognize youth who are convicted for acts of self-defense or as victims of violence. Often, young survivors of sexual assault, sex trafficking or domestic abuse are convicted in adult court and given long prison sentences. Madeleine Behr – policy director at the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation – said the bill would allow judges in these cases to review mitigating information, and give them more discretion to not sentence using mandatory minimums.

“It’s just really important to keep in mind how trauma impacts kids as they’re growing up, and throughout their young adulthood and really, the neurobiology of trauma with that,” said Behr. “The ability for judges to say, ‘I can move the child’s case back to juvenile court for sentencing,’ it gives the judges more options.”

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Lilian Jimenez – D-Chicago – has passed in both House and Senate. More than 32,000 people in U.S. prisons today have been there since childhood, according to a report by Human Rights for Kids – which ranks Illinois 11th among states for incarcerating minors in adult prisons. Behr cited cases like those of Chrystul Kizer, Cyntoia Brown-Long, and Sara Kruzan as reasons for the changes outlined in the bill. Gov. JB Pritzker is expected to sign it into law – and Behr said it can’t happen too soon.

“We often have a system that has mandatory minimums as kind-of arbitrary guidelines that really are focused on punishment and retribution, rather than healing and restoration,” said Behr. “There are not a lot of cases specifically I’ve seen in Illinois that this law will impact, but I’m hoping that it’s a preventative measure.”

Some 24% of boys and 45% of girls in the juvenile justice system have experienced trauma through at least five Adverse Childhood Experiences, according to a report by the nonprofit Rights4Girls.

Farah Siddiqi

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