Children and Family Justice Center


NEWS: Illinois girls are being sent to prison for less serious offenses and with less delinquency history than boys


The fourth installment of CFJC’s year-long series Community Safety & the Future of Illinois’ Youth Prisons draws upon discussions with youth and staff, as well as research and data, analyzing recently-increased admissions of girls to IDJJ and unreliable official data on incarcerated LGBTQ youth.

“Currently, girls are being incarcerated in Illinois for less serious offenses and with less delinquency history than boys, while little is known about the experience of LGBTQ youth in IDJJ," according to "Illinois' Incarcerated Girls and LGBTQ Youth.” The report notes the finding is "further proof of the devastating impact of cutting community programs, played out in the lives of some of the state’s most vulnerable young people."

Inside this issue:

  • The number of girls admitted to IDJJ increased by 81% between FY17 and FY18, despite an overall decline in IDJJ admissions during this period.
  • 80% of incarcerated girls were adjudicated for a Class 2 felony or lower offense.
  • Every single girl in IDJJ custody has at least two mental health diagnoses and most have experienced significant trauma.
  • Illinois’ community-based youth services, including mental health care, have suffered significant cuts and closures, which may be affecting girls’ prison admission rates.
  • Evidence suggests that LGBTQ youth are significantly overrepresented in IDJJ, which struggles to maintain a supportive environment despite significant improvements.

The series of reports is the result of a multi-year research endeavor by the Children and Family Justice Center.  The research included interviews with a wide variety of policymakers, a survey of over 150 stakeholders, the collection and analysis of data about the state’s justice system, and an extensive review of academic and practitioner research. The series will culminate in a detailed set of recommendations, consistent with calls from researchers and practitioners nationwide, for a five-year plan to end Illinois’ use of large, adult-modeled prisons for youth and to expand alternatives to incarceration. Find each month's installment on our Youth In Custody section. 

How CPD’s gang database damages the fabric of society

In recent testimony before the Illinois Senate Public Health Committee, Stephanie L. Kollmann, CFJC Policy Director, explained why the Chicago Police Department’s gang database is both over-inclusive and inaccurate — failings that make it damaging to innocent individuals and an unworkable crime-fighting tool. “The database contains tens of thousands of Chicagoans who have never been convicted of a crime; many have not even been arrested; many are erroneously included, and tens of thousands have not been actively involved in organized criminal activity for decades,” Kollmann told legislators.

CHICAGO SUN-TIMES COMMENTARY: "Rahm’s anti-carjacking bill is unfair, being falsely sold and won’t work"

CFJC Pollicy Director Stephanie Kollmann's commentary in the Chicago Sun-Times explains why Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed legislative response to a spate of carjackings does not address the actual violent crime of carjacking, would not reduce the number of carjackings and would be “miserable public policy.”

“The offense targeted by House Bill 4729 and proposed amendments is not carjacking – or assault, robbery, or any related violent offense,” according to Kollmann. “The bill, far more broadly and dangerously, would make it easier to convict someone of felony possession of a stolen motor vehicle by allowing a court to ‘infer that a person knows or recklessly disregards’ a car is stolen if he or she happens to be in a vehicle ‘without the consent of the owner.’”

Kollmann argued that sentencing laws are not to blame for the failure of Chicago Police to make an arrest in nine of 10 carjackings in Chicago last year. “Giving more felony convictions and prison years to a very broad group of people because police can’t identify the small number who are committing violent crime isn’t a public safety strategy. It is wanton state interference with employment, housing, education, child support and the host of other factors that contribute to stable families and communities,” she wrote.

DACA RECAP: Why is everyone talking about DACA?  

The volume of immigration news, the rapidly-changing nature of the immigration landscape, and the complexity of the laws and issues involved combine to make it nearly impossible to keep up with--let alone understand--the issues that underlie the ongoing debate about who should be allowed to enter or remain in the United States.  CFJC’s Uzoamaka Nzelibe has authored a primer on DACA, which will bring you up to date. 

COMMENTARY: In a commentary (“Locking up kids”) in The Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette, CFJC Director Julie L. Biehl explains why CFJC has done extensive research into the workings of the Illinois juvenile justice system and has begun to publish its findings.  

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 disrupting 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 »

About the Children and Family 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.