Cook County commissioners on Wednesday passed an ordinance that bans the pretrial detention of juvenile defendants under the age of 13 at Cook County Jail or the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center.
The ordinance, which cleared the county board’s Criminal Justice Committee one day earlier, also stresses the removal of a minor from his or her home as “the last resort” and must be “the least restrictive alternative available.”
The bill’s sponsor said it won’t affect many current detainees.
“We have a relatively small number of children under 13 we’ve put in detention. But any number is a problem for our society,” Lawrence J. Suffredin Jr. said during Tuesday’s committee meeting.
The committee vote was unanimous with all present commissioners asking to be added as the proposed ordinance’s co-sponsors.
Elizabeth E. Clarke, president of the Juvenile Justice Initiative and a supporter of the legislation, said she was optimistic about the ordinance getting broad support.
“It’s just now kudos to the people in Cook County. … They’ve worked to get these numbers down. That’s why this is possible,” Clarke said, referring to the number of detainees at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center.
The center is designed to house juvenile defendants ages 10 and older. But according to the Juvenile Justice Initiative, the county has voluntarily stopped detaining 10- and 11-year-olds. In 2017, the county had nine 12-year-old defendants in detention and none younger.
“They know how harmful this is, so this is really codifying what’s been going on for some time,” Clarke added.
Once in effect, juvenile defendants between the ages of 10 and 12 will still have access to pretrial services like in-home confinement, morning and evening reporting and electronic monitoring.
Clarke said research shows even a single night in detention can have lifelong consequences for children under the age of 13 who have been held before trial.
“This is going to help young children by making sure they get that second chance,” Clarke said.
Sixteen organizations expressed support for the ordinance, including the Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Cabrini Green Legal Aid and the John Howard Association.