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Proposal Would Keep People Under 21 Out Of Adult Prisons

Flickr user DNAK / (CC x 2.0)

People under 21 who are convicted of a crime could serve time in a juvenile facility instead of an adult jail.

State lawmakers are considering a measure that would raise the juvenile justice system's age limit from 18. It would allow a judge to decide if adult prison is warranted on a case-by-case basis.

Supporters say they want the law changed so that the punishment matches the crime and young people can have another chance to turn their life around. 

In an Illinois House judiciary hearing, proponents pointed to research that says a person’s brain isn’t mature until age 26.  They argue that if a person can’t think about their crime like an adult, then they shouldn’t serve time like an adult. 

Matt Jones of the Illinois State’s Attorneys Association spoke against the measure at the hearing. He says the research is solid, but the conclusions are faulty. 

“It is not nearly as clear cut as, all of a sudden, at age 26 their brains are fully formed," Jones said.  "A 13-year-old brain is different than a 16-year-old brain is different than a 20-year-old brain.”

Jones argues Illinois already gives a lot of adult freedoms to an 18 year old.

“He needs to go in the same juvenile court system as the 13-year-old who repeatedly steals candy bars from the Wal-Mart...that doesn’t make sense to me.”

The plan still needs both House and Senate approval. If it becomes law, the age limit would be steadily increased over the next two years.