Should 10-Year-Old Kids Be Kept in Juvenile Detention?

An excerpt from: Illinois Issues: Should 10-Year-Old Kids Be Kept In Juvenile Detention?

By Daisy Contreras. May 25, 2017

Justin Wright still remembers well the time he spent as an 11-year-old at the Cook County Juvenile Detention facility. That was nearly 25 years ago.

“When I went in there, I was a scared little kid. But I came out a hardened criminal,” he says.

In Illinois, the minimum age of detention for minors is 10 years old. The national standard is 13, as is suggested by the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, a project led by the Baltimore-based private philanthropy, the Annie E. Casey Foundation. In comparison, the minimum age in Illinois to sentence a minor to juvenile state prison after trial is 13.

To match these national standards, some Illinois legislators and juvenile justice advocates are pushing to raise the age from 10 to 13, citing scientific research into the lifelong effects after detention. However, the proposed measure was not expected to get the votes necessary without its language being amended to allow minors under 13 who have committed certain felonies or offenses to be held in detention. For some advocates, this change would defeat the purpose of the original bill.

Juvenile detention centers are the equivalent of adult jails. By law, youth are generally not kept in detention for more than 30 days at a time — often these are probation sentences or days spent waiting for a trial or placement after trial. But some do fall through the cracks: in instances where a minor is mentally ill, when the minor is charged as an adult or when the minor has no place to go. In such instances, the length of stay may surpass 30 days.

In Wright’s case, he had been admitted to the juvenile detention center after the Department of Children and Family Services could not place him in a foster home. His mother had signed custody over to the department after being unable to manage 11-year-old Wright, who was skipping school, breaking into cars and staying out late.

Had it not been for the two years that he spent at the Cook County Juvenile Detention facility, Wright says, his life would have been different. “I would have avoided a life of crime,” he says.

Researchers within the state and across the country have tried to measure the lifelong outcomes of those who have been detained as minors. A project of this magnitude began in 1995, when a group at the Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine formed the Northwestern Juvenile Project. Researchers randomly selected 1,829 detained youth at the Cook County Juvenile Detention facility and followed them into their adult lives, interviewing them annually over 16 years. Justin Wright was one of those youths.

Read the full article here.