Alton, IL

Illinois Inmates Could Be Serving Shorter Sentences

Story by WBGZ Radio

Almost half of Illinois' prison inmates who received life sentences for crimes they committed as teens are serving new, shorter sentences. Just like young offenders across the country. 

Illinois is one of many states re-evaluating life sentences for teens after a 2012 Supreme Court ruling that said young offenders can't automatically be locked up forever. 

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In Illinois 35 of the 80 inmates sentenced to life received new sentences. Jennifer Vollen-Katz with the John Howard Association said the new sentences reflect a new way of thinking about young people who commit crimes. 

She gives Illinois a lot of credit for reforming the state’s juvenile justice system.

"There is an understanding that youths are capable of rehabilitation," Vollen-Katz said. "If we do things differently for them, if we help them learn a skill set, if we help them manage emotions, if we address whatever needs they have. They can go forward and lead a productive life."

"I certainly think people think differently about crime now than we did in the ‘80s, ‘90s and 2000s," Vollen-Katz said. "But I do think the pendulum is swinging back a little bit."

Vollen-Katz said Illinois is taking two steps forward, and one step back. 

Vollen-Katz pointed to the problems at Illinois' Harrisburg Youth Center, where guards are pressing criminal cases against teens for acting up. This shows the difficulty of truly changing the thinking about the criminal justice system in Illinois, according to Vollen-Katz. 


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