Our Current Focus


Current law in Illinois allows children to be interrogated by the police without a lawyer or parent present.

2016 is the 50th anniversary of Miranda v. Arizona, the landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that held that statements made during a police interrogation could not be used in court unless the defendant was advised of their constitutional right to counsel and against self-incrimination and understood those rights and voluntarily waived them.  What has come to be known as “Miranda rights.”

It is time to acknowledge that children are incapable of “exercising their miranda right” so the provision of counsel must be automatic.

Case after case has demonstrated that children are particularly susceptible to falsely confess. In addition, research shows children are less competent than adults to make legal decisions and may not understand Miranda:

  • Only 20.9% of minors, as compared to 42.3% of adults, understand the Miranda warnings.
  • 63.3% of minors, as compared to 37.3% of adults, fail to understand at least one “critical” word in the standard Miranda warnings.
  • Among minors, the least understood warning is the right to consult with an attorney prior to responding to police questioning.
  • 62% of minors believe that a judge can penalize them for exercising their right to remain silent.
  • 96% of 14 year olds do not have an adequate understanding of the consequences of waiving their rights.

SB2370, sponsored by Sen. Patricia Van Pelt requires that children be given the protection of an attorney during a custodial interrogation.   If a minor is interrogated without counsel, the resulting statement cannot be used against the minor in court.  On March 11, 2016 this bill passed out of Subcommittee on Police Professionalism and was referred to the full Executive Committee.  UPDATE:  This bill has been amended to require legal counsel only when children are being interrogated for homicide.  As amended, this bill passed out of the senate and is in the house, sponsored by Rep. Currie.  See updated fact sheet below.

  • Click here to read the National Legal Aid and Defender Association letter of support for SB2370.
  • Click here to read the National Juvenile Defender Center’s letter of support for SB2370.
  • Click here to see the fact sheet for SB2370.
  • Email us at js@jjustice.org if you would us to add your name or organization to the list of supporters of SB2370.

Under international human rights law, access to counsel for children (and adults) during a custodial interrogation is a human right – and has been in place in the U.K., with great success, for over twenty years.

It is time to ensure that children have this fundamental protection.  Especially since children accused of serious offenses risk being transferred to adult court and potential adult sentences based on what they say at the police station.  Transfer laws are now  so complex most lawyers don’t understand them all. Children should not be forced to make these critical decisions without legal representation.


JJI supports raising the age of juvenile court to 21 to bring our court system in line with research that shows young adults (people ages 18-21) are more similar to juveniles than adults in terms of criminal offending.

On January 22, 2016, Elizabeth Clarke, president of JJI, testified at a subject matter hearing on Young Adults in Conflict with the Law hosted by four Illinois House committees (Youth and Young Adults, Human Services, Judiciary – Criminal and Juvenile Justice and System-Involved Youth).  Several other experts testified at the half-day hearing.  See the hearing agenda and bios of the speakers here and the hearing briefing book here.

As a result of the hearing, Rep. Laura Fine has filed two bills related to including young adults in juvenile court:

  • HB6308:  This bill proposes allowing young adults charged with misdemeanors to be tried in juvenile court.  See the full bill here.  This bill passed out of the House Criminal Law committee on April 6, 2016 and has moved to the House of Representatives.  Read the fact sheet here.
  • HB6191:  This bill proposes allowing young adults charged with misdemeanors and felonies to be tried in juvenile court See the full bill here.  This bill will not be moving forward in this legislative session.

For more information on young adults in conflict with the law, see below:

  • Read JJI’s testimony on ending the practice of trying children in adult court filed November 20, 2015 before the Illinois Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform Commission.
  • Read JJI’s testimony on Young Adults, filed Oct. 30, 2015 before the Illinois Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform Commission.
  • JJI attended a summit hosted by U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Sept 8, 2015, where she noted: brain science also indicates that we may have a significant opportunity, even after the teenage years, to exert a positive influence and reduce future criminality through appropriate interventions.  
  • Read JJI’s research on Young Adults in Cook County Jail in 2013 – including the fact that 4,011 admissions of young adults to the jail were for misdemeanor offenses.
  • Read JJI’s testimony filed July 27, 2015 before the Illinois Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform Commission, urging the replication of juvenile diversion and sentencing options for Young Adults.
  • Read commentary in Chicago Tribune urging that the age of juvenile court be raised to 21.
  • Read new national report urging community based responses to justice involved young adults.


In Illinois adults who are arrested must be taken before a judge “without unnecessary delay” at which time the judge will set bail and determine if the person charged can be released from custody.

Children, too, are entitled to a detention hearing but within 40 hours not including weekends and holidays. This means if a child is arrested on a Friday evening before a Monday holiday, a judge may not review the decision to detain him/her until at least the following Tuesday morning.  This lengthy detention review process is an unnecessary delay at the child’s expense.

JJI supports HB5619 filed by Rep. Robyn Gabel that seeks to make the timeframe for juvenile detention review the same as the custody review (bond hearing) for adults – within 24 hours, 7 days a week, including weekends and holidays. Read the full bill here.  This bill passed out of the house and is in the senate.  Read the fact sheet here.

In 2014 in Cook County, 1,215 children were detained on a weekend (27.6% of total detention admissions).  Of those nearly 25% were released on a Monday.

Research shows that detention is harmful to children. No child should have to stay in detention longer than necessary.  It is critical to have the decision to detain a child reviewed within 24 hours so they can be reunited with their family as soon as possible.


Children should not be sentenced to prison for probation violations, infractions that would not be subject to a prison sentence in and of themselves.  Illinois needs to follow other state’s, like Kansas and Kentucky, and implement a statewide system of graduated sanctions for probation violations.

“RIGHT-SIZING” THE DEPARTMENT OF JUVENILE JUSTICE – Illinois is one of the national leaders in juvenile de-incarceration, having reduced court commitments to juvenile prisons by over 73% from a high of nearly 2300 in 1998 to under 500 today.  But we still have more work to do. Recent expert reports on the conditions of Illinois’ juvenile prisons show a broken system that should not be housing our most vulnerable children.  Incarcerated children are not receiving the mental health treatment they need, the education they deserve, and many remain in their cells for close to 24 hours a day without adequate programming or activities.  Read the full reports that were filed in the ACLU lawsuit against the Department of Juvenile Justice here

  • On May 10, 2016 the Department of Juvenile Justice announced it will close Kewanee IYC.  Read the statement from DJJ Director, Candice Jones, here.
  • The vote as to whether or not to close the Kewanee IYC will be held on 5/3/16 at 9:30 a.m. in Room C-1 in the Stratton building in Springfield.  The vote will be held by the Commissioners of the Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.  The commissioners are all Illinois senators and representatives.  Click here to see the commission members.
  • On March 30, the Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, a state legislative panel, held a public hearing about Gov. Rauner’s proposal to close the juvenile prison at Kewanee. The room was packed with local people concerned about the loss of jobs the closing would bring and advocates from around the state in support of its closure. Read JJI’s written testimony in support of the closure of Kewanee IYC here: JJI testimony Kewanee
  • Read JJI’s   statement in support of closing the juvenile prison in Kewanee, IL, as proposed by the Department of Juvenile Justice on February 12, 2016.
  • Read JJI’s supplemental letter (also signed by the John Howard Association and the ACLU) to Governor Rauner again asking him to close Kewanee IYC, dated December 1, 2015.
  • Read JJI’s letter (also signed by the John Howard Association and the ACLU) to Governor Rauner asking him to close Kewanee IYC (juvenile prison), dated October 14,  2015

FUND COMMUNITY PROGRAMS – JJI urges the Governor and Illinois Legislature to fully fund community based preventative and intervention services for children in Illinois.

  • Read JJI’s statement on the need to maintain community based services in the state budget.





The Juvenile Justice Initiative is a non-profit, non-partisan statewide advocacy organization working to transform the juvenile justice system in Illinois. We advocate to reduce reliance on incarceration, to enhance fairness for all youth and to develop a comprehensive continuum of community-based resources throughout the state.