Illinois House Weighs Bill to Allow Young Adult Misdemeanor Cases to Be Heard in Juvenile Court

By Ken DeCoster

Young adults charged with misdemeanor crimes could have their cases transferred to juvenile court under legislation being considered by the Illinois House.

A bill co-sponsored by state Rep. Litesa Wallace, D-Rockford, would give judges the authority to decide whether 18-, 19- and 20-year-old defendants should have their misdemeanor cases heard in juvenile court.

The goal is to place emerging adults into a developmentally appropriate justice system, to reduce recidivism and prevent deeper criminal involvement, Wallace said. But opponents worry it could further strain the juvenile justice system and create inconsistency in the courts.

“This makes sense because neuroscience and neuropsychology show us that our brains aren’t fully developed until we’re roughly 25 years old,” Wallace said. “That means that the impulse control center of the brain, which would probably stop someone from committing certain acts is not fully developed in a person who is 18 to 21.”

Wallace, who has a doctorate degree in educational psychology, responded to the argument that 18-year-olds can vote and join the military and therefore should be tried in adult court: “Adulthood beginning at 18 is an arbitrary and societal concept,” Wallace said. “It is not always consistent with where the brain is at that stage.”

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