Recently, members of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus supported a new law that essentially ends automatic life sentences for minors. House Bill 2471 aligns Illinois with a U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Case of Miller v. Alabama. The U.S. Supreme Court deemed that a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole was unconstitutional for individuals whose crimes occurred while they were under the age of 18.
Illinois Legislative Black Caucus members see this victory for the black community because African Americans statistically receive harsher sentencing at a considerably higher rate than their white equivalents.
“Our youth make mistakes, but when young black men and women commit crimes, they are disproportionally met with the stiffer penalties,” Assistant Majority Leader Kimberly A. Lightford (D-Maywood)said, who is also Chairman of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus.
“Minors aren’t mature enough to comprehend the impact of their actions. We need to keep dangerous criminals off the streets, but we also need to ensure the punishment fits the crime.”
The law also outlines a series of factors the courts should take into account when handing down sentences to minors convicted of serious crimes. These include:
– The minor’s age and maturity
– The minor’s home environment, including any past abuse
– The potential the minor could be rehabilitated, including if he or she shows remorse
– The circumstances of the offense
– The minor’s prior criminal history
– If the minor has a developmental disability
“This measure is the right thing to do,” said Representative LaShawn Ford, Chairman of the Restorative Justice Committee. “It’s a tragedy when a juvenile commits a serious crime, but we need to ensure juvenile offenders pay their debt to society and then have an opportunity to contribute to society.”
The new law takes effect January 1, 2016.