An awards ceremony will be held Thursday night to honor those who work tirelessly to defend the rights of young people in the Illinois criminal justice system.
A lot of progress has been made in Illinois, said Elizabeth Clarke, director at the Juvenile Justice Initiative, including a recent law requiring that children under age 15 have a lawyer present when they are questioned by police, and that those sessions are videotaped. And according to Clarke, the number of juveniles incarcerated in the state has declined overall.
"We've cut it back by two-thirds and have closed three of the eight juvenile prisons," she said. "We have gotten children out of the adult court; we've raised the age from 17 to 18. So 17-year-olds are tried in the juvenile court. We ended automatic adult prosecution for children charged with drug offenses."
Clarke emphasized the importance of keeping juvenile cases in juvenile court - and out of the adult system - because research has shown much better outcomes for young people and for society when they are.
The Juvenile Justice Initiative has argued for Cook County to review all cases in which a child is incarcerated before their initial court date, and Clarke said it was a major milestone for the organization when the federal courts agreed. It meant that a young person arrested outside regular court business hours wouldn't have to be locked up all weekend.
"The Chief Judge has agreed to come up with a plan to provide weekend review of the decision to place a child in detention," she said. "And it's my understanding that at least one county downstate - Madison County - is going to follow suit as well. And we're hoping that now the legislature will put that into state law. "
The annual awards ceremony will be held Thursday night at the Illinois State Bar Association. Those honored will be: Candace Jones, former director of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice; Randolph Stone, director of the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic at the University of Chicago and founder of the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Project; and Larry Wojcik, whose law firm has donated 23,000 hours representing juveniles in court.
Information about the event is available at jjustice.org.