Wolfe & Stec, LTD: It's Time for Illinois to Rethink Harsh Punishments for Young Offenders

Attorneys at Illinois law firm Wolfe & Stec said that the current methods of punishing young people convicted of crimes is counterproductive.

Woodridge, Illinois, UNITED STATES

Chicago, Illinois, Aug. 13, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- At least 167 inmates in Illinois are currently serving life sentences for crimes committed as juveniles. This is one of the many unfortunate realities of our criminal justice system, said attorneys at Wolfe & Stec, a criminal defense law firm in Illinois.


“While we’ve made progress improving how we deal with young offenders, we still have an incredibly long way to go,” said Marc Wolfe. “Not only do we too often hold young people to adult standards, we fail to give them the tools to better their future.”


Young people who are tried in adult criminal court are nearly one-third more likely to commit another offense than those placed in juvenile court. Additionally, in adult courts they are likely to be given significantly longer sentences. They are also much more likely than adult inmates to be sexually assaulted, beaten by staff and attacked.


“We have to think about what we want to achieve with our justice system,” said Natalie Stec. “If we’re looking to rehabilitate young people, our current approach is not working. If our goal is to keep dangerous people imprisoned, then we must come to terms with the fact that many young offenders are not necessarily the threats we think they are.”


Most young offenders who are tried in adult criminal court are charged with violent crimes. But a person’s likelihood of committing violent crime greatly decreases with age, Stec pointed out.


This can partly be understood through biology. The human brain, particularly in the regions that weigh risks and rewards, isn’t fully developed until the age of 25. Thus, younger people have less impulse control, which is one reason why neuroscientists believe that crime rates tend to decrease as people age, said Stec.


Wolfe and Stec said that the reforms of our justice system haven’t kept pace with the science.


“We know that people are less likely to commit crimes, both violent and nonviolent, as they get older,” Stec said. “But we still punish young offenders with long sentences and fail to give them adequate opportunities to be reformed.”


The attorneys said that progress can be made by not only improving how we treat young offenders, but by raising the age of those considered youthful offenders.


“There’s a trend in some parts of the country, even here in Chicago, to treat young offenders in their late teens and early twenties differently than they do older offenders,” Wolfe said. “Knowing what we do about the way young people’s brains develop, this makes sense. We hope this trend catches on.”


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