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Editorial: Juveniles deserve weekend hearings, just like adults

Sign outside the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center
Cook County Juvenile Center

Follow @csteditorialsGod forbid your teenage son is arrested in Illinois on the Friday before a three-day holiday weekend.

Even for an offense as minor as retail theft, as a juvenile he could sit locked up all weekend, and not stand before a judge to determine if he deserves to be charged or detained until the following Tuesday.

Across Illinois, Juvenile Courts are closed on weekends and holidays. But the courts are open for adults 365 days a year. They generally get hearings within 24 hours of arrest.

That discrepancy is expected to end in Cook County next month, thanks to a federal court suit filed by four parents and some tough talk from U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Durkin. Under an agreement being worked out in that case, Cook County is expected to start holding detention hearings for juveniles within 24 hours of arrest.

That’s a change that should be established statewide. Teens are far more vulnerable – and redeemable – than adults. They should be entitled to post-arrest court hearings in every county in the same time frame granted adults, if not sooner.

EDITORIAL

Follow @csteditorialsWith studies documenting the profound negative effects of juvenile detention, swifter detention hearings would make a difference in the lives of hundreds of kids a year throughout Illinois. In 2015 alone, statewide, 794 juveniles, aged 10 to 17, who were arrested on weekends were released the following Monday, according to one Illinois analysis.

In the case before Durkin, parents of four children charge that each were taken into custody on a Friday and held at least until the following Monday before being granted detention hearings or being released.

One teen was arrested on a Friday and released that Monday without ever being criminally charged or brought before a judge. Another was arrested at 8:30 p.m. on the Friday before the Fourth of July, only to sit behind bars until 11 a.m. the following Tuesday, when a judge released him to his mother.

In the very first hearing on the federal court suit, Durkin didn’t mince words. “It is mindboggling to me that adults, who are less fragile, get before a judge more quickly than juveniles,’’ he said.

Attorneys representing Cook County cited logistical concerns, but Durkin warned that the county could face a “catastrophe” if a juvenile were to be assaulted during a long weekend before a detention hearing.

“If you can do it for adults, you can do it for kids,’’ the judge said. He gave the parties a week to figure out a solution. Cook County Chief Judge Tim Evans and others have since worked up a draft order to give all juveniles hearings within 24 hours of a Cook County arrest. A hearing is expected on that draft order Oct. 12.

A bill written by Illinois Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston) would expand the reform. It requires any juvenile arrested statewide to appear before a judge within 24 hours of being taken into custody.

HB 5619 passed the House in April, but never was called to a vote in the Senate. Given Durkin’s comments in the Cook County case, we hope lawmakers use the veto session to pass Gabel’s bill in quick order.

Gabel said concerns were raised that juveniles might wind up in front of adult court judges, who could give them a “worse hearing” than a Juvenile Court judge would. Some feared the bill would be too expensive in smaller counties. She doesn’t buy it.

“My view is judges have a great job and if they need to come in on a weekend once in a while to hear a [juvenile] case, they need to do it,’’ Gabel said. “The priority is not that the judge comes first, but that the accused’s rights come first.”

In downstate Edwardsville, Madison County Public Defender John Rekowski says judges who do adult weekend court hearings could merely finish that call and then move to another location to do a juvenile court weekend call.

Rekowski supports Gabel’s bill, saying detention has a “far more lasting impact” on juveniles than adults.

Plus, Rekowski warned, there is nothing to stop police from abusing the great discretion they hold in deciding when to arrest juveniles. Authorities can intentionally pick up kids on a Friday — particularly those sought on something as minor as violating their probation by skipping school or not obeying their parents — if they want to squeeze them into talking or just don’t like them, he said.

Given Cook County’s plans, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, whose office represented Chief Judge Evans, supports holding juvenile detention hearings within 24 hours statewide, a Madigan spokesperson said Thursday. Hopefully that support will be an important development in advancing Gabel’s bill.

New Jersey holds juvenile detention hearings within 24 hours. So does New York City.

It’s time Illinois followed suit.

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