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Black boys are more likely to be tried as adults in Chicago

By Frederick H. Lowe -NorthStar News & Analysis | | Last updated: Jul 9, 2014 - 12:20:45 PM

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CHICAGO - African-American boys are much more likely to be tried as adults in criminal court by Cook County, Ill., prosecutors through a process called “automatic transfer,” which the Illinois General Assembly passed in 1982 at the behest of Richard M. Daley, then the Cook County states’ attorney, and later Chicago mayor.

The Juvenile Justice Initiative, an Evanston, Ill.-based advocacy organization that works to transform the juvenile justice system, studied three years of data concerning 257 children under 17. The children were held in juvenile detention in Cook County but prosecuted and sentenced through adult court from Jan. 1, 2010, to Dec. 31, 2012.

The Juvenile Justice Initiative reported that 83 percent of juveniles who were tried as adults were Black, although only 44 percent of the children in Cook County were African-American.


Sixteen percent of those children prosecuted as adults were Hispanic and only one was White, according to the report titled “Automatic Adult Prosecution of Children in Cook County, Illinois, 2010-2012.”

Automatic Transfer applies to juveniles 15 and 16 who are charged with murder, rape, sexual assault and armed robbery with a gun. Under Automatic Transfer, the teenagers are automatically tried and sentenced in adult court.

“In other words, the legislature removed the ability of a juvenile court judge to consider each case individually, and eliminated any consideration of factors including background, degree of participation in the offense, mental and physical health, educational issues, and availability of resources unique to juvenile court for rehabilitation,” the report stated. “Instead, within hours/days, upon arrest and charge, the child can receive a lengthy adult sentence with a criminal record that can impact his ability to go to school, get a job and be a productive member of his community.”

The report noted that automatic adult prosecution of children primarily is used on juveniles whose zip codes are associated with Chicago’s South and West Sides, areas of the city with the largest Black populations. Automatic adult prosecution of children is rarely used outside of Chicago and the rest of the state, the report concluded.

Illinois is one of 14 states where a judge cannot provide judicial review, either in juvenile or adult court, reported the Juvenile Justice Initiative.