Illinois Commission Finds: Declining Number of Juvenile Sex Offenders, Uneven Treatment, Oppressive Registry

Illinois should even out the assessment and services to juvenile sex offenders, and shield them from the state’s registry, a commission tasked with assessing that population recommended in a report released yesterday.

The Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission (IJJC) used data collection, case file reviews and interviews to investigate the state’s current reality when it comes to juvenile sex offenders. It is a population that occupies a small percentage of the cells in Illinois’ juvenile justice facilities, just three percent, but those offenders stay twice as long as the average incarcerated juvenile.

“In half the files we looked at, there was no use of sex offender assessment tools,” said Commissioner George Timberlake, a former juvenile judge, speaking on a conference call with media. “And the practices and policies varied widely.”

The commission’s report found that the number of arrests for juvenile sex offenses in the state dropped from 434 in 2004 to 232 in 2010. About half of those arrested were under the age of 14, and “at least one-third” of those arrested “have themselves been sexual abuse victims.”

The majority of the victims in these cases were family members, family friends or neighbors. Less than ten percent of the victims were strangers.

The commission notes research suggests that juvenile sex offenders, unlike adults, are unlikely to commit another sex offense again. One study from 2007 found about 7 percent of juvenile sex offenders were re-arrested for another sex crime.

IJJC recommended that the state “equip courts and communities” to assess and intervene with juvenile sex offenders in the communities. At the point of pre-adjudication, the commission said, there should be “protocols for evaluation of youth that protects due process rights.”

It should also permit court stakeholders – judges, prosecutors and defenders – to “develop individualized case plans based on an assessment where the level of intervention corresponds to the risk level.”

“Really strong community-based treatment approaches aren’t available in every Illinois community today,” said Commissioner Lisa Jacobs, speaking on the media call.

The commission also recommended that the state stop putting juveniles on the sex offender registry. There are currently 2,552 juveniles on the state registry, and 70 percent of them will be on it for life under current law.

“It can hurt their education, employment, positive relationships with peers,” said Timberlake. “And it can undermine the well-being of victims, who are very often in the same home.”

Failure to comply with the state registry often leads to adult felony convictions for juveniles, Timberlake added.

“There is no persuasive evidence that subjecting youth to registries improves public safety or reduces risks of future offending,” the IJJC report said. “Illinois should repeal the registry, restrictions, and notification requirements applied to youth adjudicated delinquent for sexual offenses.”

John Kelly is the editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change

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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.