Children and Family Justice Center

NEWS: Illinois Youth Prisons Receive C+ Grade — Improvement Needed

State needs 5-Year plan to remove youth from large prisons and Into small, local, therapeutic setting

In a report card delivered to state legislators, the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice received a C+ grade with improvement needed.

The report card is based on a survey of 150 juvenile system stakeholders, who were asked to evaluate DJJ's progress on 12 key points central to DJJ's mission.

"It is just one form of feedback, but is consistent with the other information we have gathered: according to many who are familiar with Illinois youth prisons, while IDJJ has shown significant progress since its failing days as a subdivision of IDOC, it is still falling well short of both best practices and Illinois’ own standards, in many vital areas," Julie L. Biehl, CFJC Director, said in testimony to the Illinois House Appropriations - Public Safety Committee.

Biehl called for a 5-year plan to eliminate large-scale prisons. “Within five years, no young person should be incarcerated due to a lack of community services, supervision, or support, and every youth who is still committed to state custody should be held in a small, local, therapeutic setting," Biehl said.

report card b

 COMMENTARY: The City of Chicago’s Report on Guns Is Misleading

The City of Chicago’s study of crime guns seized by police made headlines but raised questions about how the City defines crime guns and data omitted from the “Gun Trace Report.”

In her commentary, “Sound Policies, Not Misleading Labels, are Best Tools to Address Gun Violence,” Stephanie L. Kollmann, CFJC Policy Director, takes a closer look at the details. “To be sure, the flow of guns into illegal markets and transfers is an important matter, and traces that include unlawful gun possession, as the report does, are useful data in addressing that problem,” Kollman writes. “However, we are left to speculate as to whether there may be any difference in the sources of guns recovered in relation to a violent crime, versus a licensing offense.”

Related: "An enormous list of names does nothing to combat Chicago crime"

NEWS: Time to Abolish Mandatory Sex Offender Registry

kollmannStephanie L. Kollmann, CFJC Policy Director, recently urged a state advisory task force to recommend an end to the state’s mandatory uniform sex offender registry requirements, including restrictions on where people on the registry are permitted to live.

In testimony before the Illinois Sex Offenses and Sex Offender Registration Task Force, Kollmann emphasized that decades of experience and research about sex registries has proven that mandating registration for everyone with sexual offenses does not improve public safety and can actually endanger the public by distrupting family stability, housing, and employment.

Not only is the registry unfair and unproven as a public safety tool, the state has made it exceeding difficult and expensive — and in many cases impossible — for youth to petition successful for removal from the registry requirements. “With over 2,500 young people on the juvenile registry and growing, only about 1% petition for removal each year – despite overwhelming evidence that maintaining youth on the registry is bad public policy,” Kollmann said.

“The juvenile removal statute is currently built ‘upside down,’ as though registries and restrictions are grounded in sound research and evidence and the problem is merely that, for a select few, they are applied too broadly,” she said. “Thus, the burden is shifted to a small number of presumably-exceptional youth to gather their records, obtain an assessment, organize and file a petition, and argue their case in court – all without access to a court-appointed attorney. This process takes about a year and a half to complete and represents hundreds of hours of work by costly professionals – risk evaluators and attorneys – work equivalent to well over $10,000 per petition.”

Read her testimony » 

NEWS: Shobha L. Mahadev Comments on Juvenile Life Without Parole

MahadevThe “Morning Shift” on WBEZ recently reported on the case of Addolfo Davis, a teen sentenced to life in prison in 1990. After a review of his case and rehabilitation, a court soon will consider allowing him to leave prison in 2020 at the age of 44.

Host Jennifer White asked Shobha L. Mahadev, a Clinical Assistant Professor of Law at CFJC, to explain the U.S. Supreme Court’s Miller v. Alabama ruling that mandatory sentences of life without the possibility of parole are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders and comment on the impact on Addolfo Davis and many others with life sentences for crimes committed as juveniles.

“Like Addolfo, a lot of the young people serving the sentence were the product of trauma, violence, abuse in their homes and communities,” Mahadev said. That doesn’t excuse their actions, but it gives us a context which is exactly what the United States Supreme Court has asked us to look at. The Court has asked us to consider who a young person is in terms of their development and all of the science we have learned in the last decade or so. Young people, we know, are unable to foresee consequences in the way that adults are able to do. They act with more impulse. They’re more susceptible to peer pressure. They’re unable to extricate themselves from really difficult circumstances in their families and communities.”

Listen to the full Morning Shift program. The interview with Mahadev begins at the 8:20 mark.

We are celebrating the 25th anniversary of CFJC.  This is our story. 


Many thanks to everyone who helped make our 25th anniversary celebration a big success!  Find photos from the event »

NEWS: Juvenile Expungement Legislation Enacted

Illinois has enacted landmark juvenile justice reforms called for in a research report written in partnership with the Children and Family Justice Center and released by the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission.

Gov. Bruce Rauner recently signed House Bill 3817 to streamline the process of expunging juvenile arrests. The legislation was advocated by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and was sponsored by Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, and Sen. Michael E. Hastings, D-Tinley Park.  

The 2016 report, “Burdened for Life: The Myth of Juvenile Record Confidentiality and Expungement in Illinois,” found that the expungement process is so cumbersome and expensive that only three in 1,000 juvenile arrests in Illinois are expunged. HB 3817 would improve public safety and make it easier for youth to find a job, obtain housing, and pursue and education.

“Loose confidentiality laws and arrest records that follow kids for life make it extremely difficult for youth to overcome their mistakes – can cause families to become homeless, can stall or end a youth’s education and can make every road to a job a dead end,” said Julie L. Biehl, Director of the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. “This broken system has made our neighborhoods less safe, but this new, balanced law will eliminate some of the burdens for young people attempting to leave their past behind them and lead productive lives.”

Find fact sheet about HB 3817, which is now Public Act 100-0285 »

About the Children and Famly Justice Center

Founded in 1992, the Children and Family Justice Center (CFJC) is a comprehensive children's law office and part of the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. At the CFJC, attorneys and law students work together to promote justice for children, adolescents, and their families through direct legal representation, policy advocacy and law reform.

Providing access to justice for unrepresented youth is a core mission of the CFJC. Each year, CFJC faculty, staff and students represent young people on a wide range of matters, from delinquency to immigration and asylum to cases addressing harsh sentencing practices or the collateral consequences youth face after coming into contact with the law. Oftentimes, the CFJC gives its young clients access to a lawyer when they otherwise would not have one. More...

CFJC MacArthur Award

The Children and Family Justice Center is a recipient of a MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. Please read our story, check out the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's coverage, and take a look at a video about our team's hard work! To make a gift to CFJC, please visit the Support Us page.