Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle today hailed action by the governor in signing into law juvenile justice reform legislation she championed this year.
HB 6291 sponsored by state Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, which will take effect January 1, 2017, will reduce or eliminate mandatory five-year probation sentences for juveniles and reduce commitments to juvenile prison for drug crimes. Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, was Senate sponsor of the bill.
Preckwinkle thanked Rep. Nekritz and Sen. Raoul for their advocacy and leadership on justice reform and said the latest legislation is another step in creating a fairer, evidence-based and more just way of treating juveniles caught up in the criminal justice system.
"Increasingly, our decision-makers are coming to the conclusion that the destructive, tough-on-crime laws passed decades ago are destroying or stigmatizing entire generations of our youth," Preckwinkle said. "What we need is a smart-on-crime approach like that in this bill."
"I'm pleased that Governor Rauner has taken action to support the effort led by President Preckwinkle to ensure that judges have the ability to use their discretion based on the facts of an individual case." Rep. Nekritz said. "Maintaining judicial discretion is a crucial part of the separation of powers our government is built on."
The success of HB 6291 follows another bill the governor signed into law last year — legislation also backed by President Preckwinkle and sponsored by Rep. Nekritz — ending the automatic transfer of juveniles to adult court.
Since the automatic transfer bill became law in January, Cook County has seen a 73% reduction in the number of youth automatically transferred into adult court. For the first time in over two years, the automatic transfer population is less than 100. In January of this year it was 131; today it is 95.
Additionally, the population in the County's Juvenile Temporary Detention Center ( JTDC ) has been reduced. The JTDC average daily population was 296 last month compared to 352 in July 2016. More than half of the population reduction can be directly attributed to reform of the automatic transfer law.
President Preckwinkle said that HB 6291 could have a similar impact on probation caseloads, "In the first year this bill could reduce probation sentences for youth in Cook County by as much as 1,000 years," she said. "This will allow youth who are compliant with probation to move on with their lives sooner and pursue their goals without he constraints of court supervision."
Rep. Nekritz chairs the House Judiciary Committee and has made criminal justice reform a keystone of her legislative agenda. She has worked on legislation to reform court administration, state eavesdropping statutes, and incorporate evidence-based practices into sentencing, correctional, and re-entry efforts.
Noting that HB 6291 passed with bipartisan support, Rep. Nekritz said, "Results like this demonstrate that through dedicated negotiation and commitment to reaching an agreement, we can overcome ideological and partisan hurdles to enact positive changes."
Sen. Raoul was Senate sponsor of the automatic transfer bill as well as the juvenile justice measure. "I am glad we have taken another step forward in juvenile justice," he said. "President Preckwinkle has been a great champion for justice reform and I look forward to our work together next year."
Criminal and juvenile justice reform have been top priorities for President Preckwinkle since she became Cook County Board President in December 2010.
She has brought public attention to the injustices within the justice system and the massive amount of money spent to incarcerate and detain non-violent offenders who are overwhelmingly black, brown and poor.
Preckwinkle brought together stakeholders who meet regularly around issues relevant to a fairer and more effective justice system.
"Together we have made great strides in reforming our bond court, expanding community-based alternatives to detention and increasing investments in prevention and intervention programs. But we have more to do," she said.