There is growing concern over what happens to young offenders in Illinois as they await their first court hearing.
A report by European juvenile-justice groups suggests many children worldwide are kept in solitary confinement, and argued the arrangement has the potential for long-term harm. It defined solitary confinement as physical and social isolation more than 22 hours a day, and said detainment should be a last resort and for as short a time as possible.
Elizabeth Clarke, founder of the Evanston-based Juvenile Justice Initiative, said children as young as 10 are regularly locked up and left alone.
“Shockingly, Illinois has no minimum age for prosecution of children in our juvenile court,” Clarke pointed out. “Often, they’re held in their cell because there simply isn’t adequate programming. There’s nothing to do with them, and it’s very troubling.”
Clarke noted there is reason to believe the situation will improve. Last year, the Illinois Legislature passed House Bill 3140, which prohibits the use of room confinement as juvenile punishment unless the youth poses an immediate and serious risk of self-harm or harm to others. It took effect Jan. 1, and Clarke acknowledged it will take time to build up resources under the new law.
An Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice report said the state has 16 detention centers housing an average of 160 youths. A judge closed a Franklin County center last month, citing excessive use of solitary confinement.
Another bill would raise the age to imprison kids for felony convictions. Clarke called it a start, and it is supported by juvenile rights advocates and the Illinois Probation and Court Services Association.
“We do not believe young children ever belong in detention. It’s not an appropriate place for them,” Clarke asserted. “We want to see this House Bill 2347 pass.”
The bill was filed one year ago this week. It said the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission should review and make recommendations to the General Assembly on raising the minimum detention age to 14.