cases subject to transfer.34 Prior to 1982, Illinois judges made individualized decisions as to
whether a child should be tried and sentenced as a juvenile or as an adult.35 That year the Illinois
General Assembly adopted “automatic transfer” legislation that required fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds charged with certain felonies to be prosecuted in adult court.36 These automatic transfer
provisions were later expanded to include, among other things, drug offenses committed within
1,000 feet of a school or public housing.37
National research conducted in the wake of the movement to transfer large numbers of
juvenile cases to adult court consistently found that adult prosecution results in poorer outcomes
for communities and individual youth.38 Youth who are tried in the adult system, for example,
have higher recidivism rates for more serious crimes than do those who remain in juvenile court.39
In addition, automatic transfer laws have a disproportionate impact on youth of color. A report on
transfer in Cook County, Illinois between 1999 and 2000, for example, found that of the 363 youth
who were transferred to criminal court for drug offenses, 99.2 percent were minority youth.40 This
same study also revealed that the majority of youth subject to automatic transfer were charged with
drug violations.41 After members of the Illinois General Assembly were provided with these data,
they amended the state’s transfer laws to return original jurisdiction over drug cases to the juvenile
court.42 A follow-up study concluded that the removal of drug cases to juvenile court reduced the
number of youth tried in adult court by more than two-thirds.43 Moreover, returning drug cases to
juvenile court jurisdiction neither increased the number of new delinquency petitions nor the
number of drug cases transferred to adult court by juvenile court judges.44 The net result of the
drug transfer legislation was that hundreds of youth of color were no longer subject to trial and
sentencing in the adult criminal justice system.
After passage of the drug rollback law, Illinois advocates continued to push for an end to
all automatic transfer. Even after passage of “raise the age” legislation returning seventeen-year-olds to the jurisdiction of the juvenile court, each year large numbers of youth were subject to the
state’s automatic transfer laws.45 Faced with this ongoing reality, the Illinois Juvenile Justice
Initiative, a Models for Change grantee, issued a new report examining adult prosecutions of Cook
County youth in the years 2010-2012.46 That study highlighted the ongoing disproportionate
34 ELIZABETH KOOY, CHANGING COURSE: A REVIEW OF THE FIRST TWO YEARS OF DRUG TRANSFER REFORM IN
ILLINOIS, MODELS FOR CHANGE 7–8 (2008),
35 Id. at 7.
38 See Richard E. Redding, Juvenile Transfer Laws: An Effective Deterrent to Delinquency?, OFFICE OF JUSTICE
PROGRAMS (2010), https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/220595.pdf (reviewing studies on the effects of juvenile
39 Id. at 6.
40 See JASON ZIEDENBERG, DRUGS AND DISPARITY: THE RACIAL IMPACT OF ILLINOIS’ PRACTICE OF TRANSFERRING
YOUNG DRUG OFFENDERS TO ADULT COURT 8 (2001),
http://www.justicepolicy.org/research/2059 (citing ELIZABETH
KOOY, THE STATUS OF AUTOMATIC TRANSFER TO ADULT COURT IN COOK COUNTY, ILLINOIS (Law Office of the Cook
County Public Defender ed., 2000).
41 Id. at 9. Two-thirds of all youth transferred in Cook County during this period were transferred for a drug offense,
while only twenty-six percent were charged with a violent offense.
42 Public Act 94-0574 (2005) (codified as amended at 705 ILL. COMP. STAT. ANN. 405/5-130 (10) (West 2015)).