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How young is too young to be in lockup? Supreme Court, legislature might decide

Daily Herald

Friday, November 8, 2019  |  Article  |  Charles Keeshan and Susan Sarkauskas

Juvenile Justice

How young is too young to throw a juvenile offender in detention?


That's a question both state lawmakers and the Illinois Supreme Court are likely to address in the near future, as both sides of the debate prepare to state their case in court and in the Illinois Capitol on whether children under 13 should ever be locked up.


Let's start in court.


Last week, a sharply divided First District State Appellate Court nullified a Cook County ordinance passed last year that said, in part, that children under 13 shall not be held in the county jail or the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. The ordinance was a departure from state law, which allows kids as young as 11 in juvenile detention.


The appellate court's ruling stems from the case of a 12-year-old boy accused, along with his 18-year-old brother, of robbing a GameStop video game store in August 2018. The seventh-grader, known in court documents as Matthias H., initially was placed on electronic home monitoring, but after he left home without permission on a few occasions over the next several weeks, Cook County Judge Marianne Jackson ordered him placed in detention -- despite the county ordinance barring it.


"If I follow this ordinance, what I would be creating is a 12-year-old who is at liberty to ignore his mother, at liberty to ignore this court, and put himself in extreme danger, and that I would be powerless, essentially a paper tiger, to do anything about it," Jackson said at the time.


The appellate court last week upheld her decision, ruling that the county board didn't have the authority to pass its ordinance. The power to regulate juvenile detention, the court majority ruled, explicitly was given to the courts by the state General Assembly.


Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli has pledged to appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.


State Rep. Robyn Gabel, a Democrat from Evanston, introduced legislation this year that would raise the minimum age to be held in juvenile detention from 11 to 13. "Children that young do not need to be in a juvenile detention center," she said.


But in the meantime, a group of state lawmakers -- including suburban Reps. Linda Chapa LaVia of Aurora and Terra Costa Howard of Lombard -- are working on legislation that could make that appeal moot.


Their bill, introduced by state Rep. Robyn Gabel of Evanston, would bar authorities from placing a child under 13 in detention.


"Children that young do not need to be in a juvenile detention center," Gabel told us Thursday. "If a child does something that's against the law, we need to correct them and help them."


Downward trajectory

So, why the push to raise the age of detention?


Proponents say locking up preteens leads to a host of negative consequences, ranging from suicidal thoughts to increasing the chances they'll reoffend once released.


"If you look at the rates of recidivism for a child that has had contact with the criminal justice system that young, it's through the roof," Garien Gatewood, program director for the Illinois Justice Project, told us this week. "Detention has to be an absolute last resort because we know the harm it causes."


Gatewood said instances of children under 13 being placed in detention are pretty rare -- about 160 statewide last year. Still, he added, the primary stumbling block to raising the age might be finding alternatives to detention, especially in less populated counties with fewer resources.


"The question is, how do we get the kid services?" he said.


'One size doesn't fit all'

When Gabel's bill was filed earlier this year, not many individuals or organizations filed formal opposition to it. But among them were the Illinois Sheriffs' Association and Illinois State's Attorneys Association.


DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin, the association's 2018-19 president, said the prosecutors' group believes decisions about detention should be made by judges on a case-by-case basis.


"One size doesn't fit all," he told us. "I believe the judge is in the best position to make that decision because the judge knows the facts of the case, knows everything about the minor and knows about the minor's parents."


Gabel's bill was placed in the House Rules Committee in May, and she doesn't expect it to come up during the pending veto session. Instead, she said, she'll try to move it through the House again next year.


Bartlett killer ruled unfit

A Bartlett man who pleaded guilty in April to killing his wife because she was "nagging" him to return to work after a heart attack is unfit to be sentenced, and instead has been ordered to a state mental health hospital, according to DuPage County court records.


Carlo Madonia, 60, has been starving himself in the county jail while awaiting sentencing and lost 35 pounds in three weeks, according to documents filed by defense attorney Terry Ekl.


The jail tried to get him treated at Central DuPage Hospital, but the hospital refused him, according to Ekl. Madonia won't see his attorney, and the court records say the last time he was in court he muttered to Ekl that he wanted to die and "they are torturing me."


DuPage sheriff goes mobile

The DuPage County sheriff's office has launched a mobile app that provides information about emergencies and other hazardous situations.


There's an app for everything now -- including the DuPage County sheriff's office.


And one of its features is push notifications alerting users to emergencies or hazardous situations. It sent its first on Oct. 22 to warn people about expected high winds.


The mobile app also can be used to provide crime tips anonymously, research registered sex offenders, view current county jail inmates or even look for a job in the sheriff's office.


"I have promised that my office would be open and available to every citizen of DuPage County. And what better way to do that than by being available on a device nearly everyone has on their person at all times?" Sheriff James Mendrick said in announcing the app.


The office spent $32,000 to have TheSheriffApp.com develop the app. It's available in the App Store and Google Play.


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