Emerging Adult Justice in Illinois: Towards an Age-Appropriate Approach

Columbia University Justice LabThis report from Columbia University’s Justice Lab highlights examines how emerging adults—young people ages 18 and over—are overrepresented in Illinois’ criminal justice system, primarily for nonviolent and minor offenses, and bear the brunt of the worst systemic racial disparities.

  • Emerging adults comprised 10 percent of the general population in Illinois, yet accounted for 34 percent of total arrests and 28 percent of individuals sentenced to incarceration in Illinois state prisons in 2013.

  • Of those emerging adults admitted to state prisons in 2013, 73 percent were incarcerated for nonviolent offenses.

  • Over a third of youth ages 18-21 admitted to the Cook County Jail in 2017—2,252 young people—were charged with misdemeanors or other petty offenses.

  • African American emerging adults are incarcerated at a rate 9.4 times greater than their white peers in Illinois. Illinois has one of the highest incarceration rates of African American emerging adults in the country, 3 times higher than New York and 2.5 times higher than California.

  • Nationally, 3 out of 4 emerging adults released from incarceration are rearrested within 3 years. These poor public safety outcomes are exacerbated by significant barriers to reentry, such as a growing prevalence of substance addictions and homelessness among this age group.