It was a time that women couldn't vote. Scientists of the day used brain size and the first intelligence tests to determine that white people were biologically superior to all other races. People with mental illnesses were locked up in crude asylums, restrained to beds and given shock therapy in an attempt to cure them.
That was the year the Illinois legislature decided that 17-year-olds would be tried in adult court, not the juvenile justice systems that had been set up just years earlier.
One hundred years later, we have vastly different ideas
about how the world works. We know that children aren't born as tiny
adults - that they keep developing throughout their lives. That their
brains don't fully mature until their early 20s, particularly the frontal lobe, which controls decision making and impulse control.
despite that advancement in knowledge - despite the fact that we now
fly airplanes, get information at the speed of light, control the spread
of infections through antibiotics and vaccines - despite all that
progress, there's been no change for 17-year-olds who make one big
Commit an adult crime, do adult time. That's what
today's teenagers are told from adults who've decided they aren't mature
enough to vote or even get a full drivers license, but they're old
enough to pay for mistakes they make.
And a lot of kids in
Chicago are paying with their lives. Years spent in adult prison after
pleading guilty to crimes like unlawful use of a weapon on school
grounds, aggravated battery, possession, robbery and theft take their
toll, transforming what was once a kid who made some bad choices into a
hardened criminal who will spend years away from society.
Are these 17-year-olds innocent angels? Not always. Butan analysis by The Chicago Reporter's Angela Caputo
(pdf) shows these kids generally aren't going away for violent crimes.
Drugs, theft and robbery make up 76 percent of cases where 17-year-olds
are convicted and tried for felonies in adult court.
surgeon said he would treat your medical condition with tools from 1906,
I doubt you'd get on the table. If a dentist wanted to fix your cavity
with a circa-1900 drill, there's not many who'd remain in the chair. If
your child's teacher was teaching history with a text book published in
1906, you'd be looking for a different school.
But thousands of
children are going away every year, losing years of their life,
and sending them to a facility that practically guarantees they'll come
out worse for wear. Why are we determining a child's outcome based on
our perceptions of brain development from 100 years ago? If these
kids were white and affluent, not poor black kids who are easily ignored
if they don't live in your neighborhood, would we have updated our law
books to reflect our modern values and knowledge?
For more on
what happens to these kids and how they end up in the system in the
first place, take a look at Angela's landmark investigation, Stolen Futures, in the September/October issue of the Reporter. Or join us tonight for our issue release party at M Lounge, 1520 S. Wabash, to get a free copy of the magazine and learn more about juvenile justice.
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