Letter to the editor: criminal justice for minors

By Matt Karstens

Letters to the editor are the the author’s opinion alone
Illinois Takes a Positive Step Forward in Criminal Justice for Minors
HB 351, signed into law by Gov. Pritzker and became effective June 1, is a step in the right direction for Illinois by providing a much-needed benefit to juvenile offenders sentenced to lengthy prison terms. Now codified into law under 730 ILCS 5/5-4.5-110, this recent legislation provides parole review for minors convicted of an offense other than first degree murder after 10 years. Minors convicted of first-degree murder will be eligible for a hearing before the prison review board after 20 years, except for those subject to natural life imprisonment, or aggravated criminal sexual assault.

This statute moves our state forward within our nation’s changing juvenile justice landscape by providing a much-needed remedy for juvenile offenders. No longer will juvenile offenders be subjected to serve the entirety of their offenses for potentially one terrible mistake made as a child. In their 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court established that juveniles have “diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform.” Additionally, children have a “lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility, leading to recklessness, impulsivity and heedless risk-taking.” Illinois observed our nation’s shift from punishing minors as if they were adults to seeing that minors make mistakes and deserve a second chance, if they deserve it. 

Additionally, this statute properly takes into account the rights of the victims by not making this legislation retroactive. This statute will only affect minor offenders beginning June 1 and beyond. Victims and their families who were promised definite sentences of their assailers prior to June 1 will see those promises fulfilled. This statute represents a bi-partisan win for legislators and for the state of Illinois, which has been without discretionary parole since 1978.