Cook County Circuit Court will allow juvenile hearings on weekends

Sam Krevlin, Reporter

Juveniles arrested over the weekend in Cook County will no longer have to wait until Monday for a hearing, after the Circuit Court of Cook County ordered last week that juvenile hearings be conducted on weekends.

Currently, juveniles put in detention centers on Friday would have to wait until Monday to stand in front of a judge. The new policy will be enacted in November.

The announcement, issued by Chief Judge Timothy Evans, brings juvenile law more in line with adult law. State law said juveniles had 40 hours for their case to be reviewed, excluding weekends and holidays. Because no cases are reviewed on weekends, juveniles could stay in detention centers as long as 72 hours. Adult law stated judges must review cases before 48 hours, including weekends.

“The juvenile system is supposed to be kinder and gentler than the adult system,” said John Rekowski, a public defender who works with juveniles in Madison County. “It makes no sense that an adult can see a judge 365 days a year and get out of jail and a juvenile has to sit there over long weekends because he is a juvenile.”

Rekowski is one of the advocates for a bill written by state Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston) aiming to to expand the reform presented by Evans by institutionalizing weekend hearings across all Illinois counties. The bill was passed in the Illinois House in April, but the state Senate has yet to vote on it.

If the bill is passed, it would not hurt smaller counties with fewer judges available because the number of cases in those areas are proportional, Rekowski said.

In 2014, Cook County detained 1,215 children during weekends, which is over a quarter of total detention admissions. Out of the 1,215 children, nearly a quarter of those were released on Mondays, according to the Juvenile Justice Initiative.

Elizabeth Clarke, president and founder of the Juvenile Justice Initiative, said research shows detention is harmful to children. One night, Clarke said, can cause psychological harm for a child.

Rekowski added that many children face post traumatic stress disorder once they leave detention facilities and endure physical harm.

“Children are much more susceptible to psychological harm, not to mention physical harm, when they are being detained,” Rekowski said. “I applaud Cook County for being on the cutting edge of this in Illinois.”

Despite some additional costs necessary to keep judges, clerks and public defenders available on weekends, Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin said they are minimal and worthy of the justice being brought to juveniles.

“There is a cost, but the cost should never be the indicator of good justice,” Suffredin said. “No one should stay in custody because a judge is not available. That is a basic principle.”

Clarke said this decision to allow juvenile hearings on weekends may even lower the number of juveniles put in detention centers to begin with, as adding a layer to the process may make law enforcement and the general court system think harder about leaving children in detention centers.

Patrick Keenan-Devlin, executive director of the James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy in Evanston, hopes Illinois will go further and mandate that juveniles should receive a hearing within 24 hours of being arrested. He said the court system should not only seek parity between juveniles and adults, but also give children more liberty.

“When they are removed from their home, removed from their family, when they are removed from their school, it has damaging and long-term impact on a child,” Keenan-Devlin said.

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