Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans wants to establish a new court branch for adults who are accused of criminal activity between the ages of 18 and 26, according to a column by Evans in the latest Illinois Supreme Court newsletter.
“The time has come for the establishment of a third branch of courts,” Evans writes, “a court that recognizes the intermediate stage of biological and social development between children and mature adults. The court would be known as ‘Young Adult Court.’”
Evans said his proposed court branch would “give specific consideration to the mental and physical characteristics of this age group.”
Young Adult Court (YAC) would serve defendants who are too old for juvenile courts, which handle criminal cases of persons under the age of 18.
A YAC in San Francisco, established in 2015, claims to be the first of its kind in the country. It serves defendants between the ages of 18 and 24. YACs in Brooklyn, New York, and Douglas County, Nebraska, also handle cases up to the age of 24-years.
Evans’ proposed YAC would hear cases for people as old as 26, according to his column. He did not detail what kinds of cases should be eligible for the proposed court.
“Emerging adults have not fully developed that part of the brain known as the pre-frontal cortex, which is that part of the brain that controls cognitive thought and planning, as well as emotional responses to stress,” he said. “The pre-frontal cortex generally continues to develop until one is closer to the age of 26.”
Cook County already has several programs to divert first-time and young adult offenders from criminal prosecution, including a restorative justice court, deferred prosecution, and even so-called “expungeable probation” for gun cases.
Evans pointed to the Cook County courts’ restorative justice program in Chicago as a success story that has kept “emerging adults” accused of misdemeanors and non-violent felonies out of the usual adult court system.
A restorative justice defendant — called a “participant” — “admits to and apologizes to both the victim and the community for the crime he committed and for causing them harm,” Evans wrote.
“He also agrees to and sign [sic] a ‘Repair of Harm Agreement,’ designed to make the victim and the community whole…[and] he agrees to take steps to help prevent the recurrence of the criminal acts against the victim or anybody else in the community.”
Such steps include cognitive behavior therapy, drug rehabilitation, and preparation for employment, Evans said.
“Our experience…strongly suggests Young Adult Courts for emerging adults would be far more humane than adult criminal courts, they would reduce recidivism better than conventional adult criminal courts, and they would result in the emerging adult returning to the community without a criminal record and ready to contribute to society in a positive way,” the chief judge concluded.