Raise the Age

Did you know that U.S. is the only country that sets the age of criminal (adult) court jurisdiction under 18? Did you know in two states (NY & NC), children as young as 16 are always tried as adults in criminal court?

“Raising the age” refers to the movement to ensure that most youth who are less than 18 years old be tried in the juvenile court system rather than the adult court system. The age for juvenile court jurisdiction is below 18 in only 10 states across the country.
Juvenile Jurisdiction Map Img


According to The Campaign for Youth Justice, 250,000 youth are tried, sentenced or incarcerated as adults each year in the United States, the majority of them for non-violent offenses.

Illinois recently joined to “raise the age” of juvenile court jurisdiction. Until December 31, 2009, 17-year-olds were always tried as adults for any crime. In 2008, the Juvenile Justice Initiative successfully passed the Senate Bill 2275. The bill was signed into law, Public Act 95-1031, on February 10, 2009, which allowed 17-year-olds charged with misdemeanors to be tried in juvenile court.

Further “raise the age” reform happened in 2013. The JJI successfully advocated for House Bill 2404 – a bill to extend juvenile court jurisdiction to include 17-year-olds charged with felonies  – and urged then-Gov. Quinn to sign it into law, Public Act 098-0061 . Effective on January 1, 2014, the PA 098-0061 amended the definition of delinquent minor in the Juvenile Court Act to include a person who was under 18 years of age when he/she committed an alleged felony offense

“This change brings Illinois in line with 38 other states – and the rest of the world – who all recognize that seventeen year olds deserve the protections and the treatment solely available in the juvenile court in order to prevent reoffending.”

Resources on IL Raise the Age:

  • Click here to read JJI’s fact sheet on HB2404 and some supporting documents.
  • Click here for JJI’s factsheet on SB2275.
  • The Ottawa Times wrote about HB2404 here.
  • Read the Northwest Herald story here.
  • JJI President Elizabeth Clarke’s testimony to the Wisconsin Legislature in favor of raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 18 from September, 2005.

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.  Several other experts testified at the half-day hearing.  See the hearing agenda and bios of the speakers here and the hearing briefing book hereAs a result of the hearing, Rep. Laura Fine filed legislation  including young adults in juvenile court: HB6308 (This bill did not move forward in this legislative session).

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

  • Read NYT editorial on San Francisco court calling on neuroscience to try a case involving a 19-year-old in young adult court.
  • 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.