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Illinois lawmakers pass bill reforming prosecution, sentencing for young criminal defendants

Illinois bill would reform criminal sentencing for kids
Illinois bill would reform criminal sentencing for kids 02:45

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Illinois lawmakers have given the green light to a bill that would protect young survivors of human trafficking from being tried as adults.

As CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey reported Friday, the bill also reforms criminal sentencing for all kids being tried in adult court.

If the bill is signed by Gov. JB Pritzker, it will make Illinois the fourth state to adopt these kinds of protections for young human trafficking victims. But the measure is not without controversy.

"We've seen a lot of national headlines of child trafficking survivors who are sentenced to very steep sentences - including life in prison - for committing acts of self-defense against a buyer or a trafficker," said Madeleine Behr, policy director of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation.

The story of a California woman, Sara Kruzan, is one of many examples, Behr said. Kruzan was sentenced to life in prison for killing her former pimp when in 1995 she was 17.

Illinois House Bill 3414, which passed the state Senate this week, would prevent such sentencing - allowing a case to be transferred back to juvenile court if the crime the minor commits is against someone who has committed human trafficking or a sex crime targeting the minor within the last three years.

"They deserve more compassion and more support, and shouldn't be subjected to the same kinds of penalties," Behr said.

The legislation is two-pronged. It also expands the number of factors judges can consider in deciding whether to issue an order to prosecute a minor as an adult for any felony offense.

These factors include if the minor was:

  • in the child welfare system,
  • is a survivor of sexual violence
  • or similar trauma, mental health, or outside pressure from the minor's peers, family, or community.

This would include, for example, the potential sentencing of Jaylen Frazier, the 16-year-old who is one of four people being tried as an adult in the shooting death of Officer Areanah Preston.

The CBS 2 Investigators uncovered he had some involvement with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

Illinois state Sen. John Curran (R-Downers Grove) calls the bill a "big step backwards."

Curran opposed the measure because he says it could lead to more teenage carjacking suspects being transferred to juvenile court.

"If we wanted to do something on sexual exploitation, this could certainly be bifurcated," Curran said at a hearing. "But putting it all together, this bill is going to substantially impair prosecutors' ability to combat this epidemic."

But juvenile victims' advocates do not agree.

"I think it's important that we recognize that survivors have really nuanced experiences and identities," Behr said.

Behr also pointed out that juvenile sex trafficking victims are disproportionately Black and brown girls.

If Gov. Pritzker signs the bill, Illinois will join Virginia, New York, and Oklahoma as states with these types of guidelines on the books. 

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