Lawmakers buy time for latest juvenile transfer bill

Education reform, medical marijuana and the state's fiscal morass dominated the headlines out of Illinois' Statehouse last week. But lawmakers were racing the clock to take action on dozens more bills that captured little attention. Among them was HB 2067, the state's latest automatic transfer proposal, which has the potential to send hundreds more Chicago teens to the adult courts for felony prosecution on gun possession charges each year.

As regular readers know, we've been closely following the measure introduced by state Rep. Michael Zalewski at the behest of outgoing-Mayor Richard M. Daley and the Chicago Police Department. It was granted an extension at the eleventh-hour on Friday when Zalewski failed to get the votes needed to pass the bill out of the House. The suburban lawmaker now has until May 20 to drum up support.

As we reported in our latest investigation, Without A Smoking Gun, 15- and 16-year-olds charged with gun possession within 1,000 feet of a school or park would automatically be transferred to the adult felony courts if lawmakers adopt the bill. Under adult jurisdiction, those convicted would be required to spend at least one year behind bars, under a new mandatory minimum sentence that Zalewski ushered through the General Assembly last year.

Behind the scenes, juvenile justice advocates and law enforcement officials are at odds over how effective the policy would be. While proponents see the tougher law as a way to drive down gun violence, opponents say the convictions will only perpetuate crime by shutting the teens out of jobs, student aid and housing opportunities for their entire adult lives. Check out our latest radio segment on The Barbershop Show, where we dug into the debate.

What may actually end up killing Zalewski's bill is the price tag. As we recently reported, the Illinois Department of Corrections estimates that it would cost $72,384 a year to detain each youth convicted under the statute. We'll continue to track the measure. Stay tuned.

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