Emerging Adults and the Criminal Justice System

Why Emerging Adults Matter: 

“(W)e have not paid enough attention to the later teenage and early adult years as a discrete period of social and behavioral development… If we hope to gain a complete understanding of what works to prevent delinquency from evolving into persistent criminal behavior, we need to look more closely at this critical stage of life and develop our sense of effective interventions and categories of appropriate sanctions.”

Assistant Attorney General Laurie O. Robinson
Foreword, From Delinquency to Adult Crime, Oxford University Press
June 2011 

Emerging adults – ages 18 – 24 – constitute a disproportionately large proportion of our criminal justice –involved population, at every stage:  from arrest to jails and prisons and probation and aftercare.  Developmental research indicates important developmental features of this age group, including heightened impulsivity, susceptibility to peer pressure and undeveloped capacities to weigh the consequences of their actions.  On the other hand, emerging adults are also capable of tremendous positive change and growth, with the right support and interventions. 

Loyola University Chicago plays a key role in efforts to bolster public safety and achieve positive outcomes with emerging adults in contact with criminal justice systems.  To launch this work, the Center convened a series of statewide conferences and workshops to examine the challenges and opportunities arising when young adults are involved in the criminal justice system.  These workshops  brought together a wide array of front line justice system practitioners, system leaders and directors and stakeholders, including law enforcement officials, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, community based service providers, probation officers and corrections leaders and advocates from across the state.   Their perspectives confirmed that emerging adults are worthy of attention:  they require specialized approaches, present unique challenges and opportunities to justice systems and comprise a large proportion of caseloads across justice agencies.  Based on this consensus, the Center is conducting research and defining best practices to help Illinois stakeholders and national partners chart the course toward more effective criminal justice policy, practice and programs.

Loyola’s Center for Criminal Justice is collaborating with Cook County criminal justice agency principles and policy makers to conduct a detailed examination of how emerging adults (those between the age of 18 and 24) are processed through the justice system and the policies and practices which show promise in improving outcomes and public safety.  This collaborative process will analysis of the prevalence and characteristics of justice-involved young adults in Cook County, a “local scan” of specialized practices and programs for young adults, and a national scan of promising policies and practices.  Based on these analyses, County stakeholders will develop a strategic plan – anticipated to be completed in late 2017 – to improve outcomes with justice-system-involved emerging adults.  This project involves Center faculty and staff, including: Diane Geraghty, David Olson, Donald Stemen, Lisa Jacobs and graduate student Claire Fischer.

National Conference: Emerging Adults and the Criminal Justice System:  Charting the Course for Policy and Practice (February 2016)

Convened with the support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, this national conference highlighted  research, data analysis, best practice and the perspectives of front-line practitioners on the policy and practice reforms which can improve outcomes for emerging adults and our communities.  For more information on topics and speakers, see: Conference Flyer (PDF)

Young Adults and the Criminal Justice System: Legislative Hearings January 2016

The Illinois General Assembly convened a joint committee hearing of the House of Representatives to examine the issues arising when young adults are involved in the criminal justice system.  Lisa Jacobs, Program Manager of Loyola's Center for Criminal Justice Research, Policy and Practice provided testimony.  Other members of the panel included Elizabeth Clarke of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Initiative (http://jjustice.org/), Vincent Schiraldi of Harvard University (http://www.hks.harvard.edu/programs/criminaljustice/people/faculty-staff/vincent-schiraldi) and Ralph Grunewald of the University of Wisconsin.

The hearing was convened to explore potential opportunities available to improve the outcomes of system-involved young adults, protect public safety and use scarce public resources effectively.  One proposal discussed was raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to age 21.  Committees participating in the hearing included Youth and Young Adults, Human Services, Judiciary - Criminal Justice, and Juvenile Justice and System Involved Youth.

Additional witnesses providing testimony included Loyola Law School graduates Lanetta Haynes Turner (Office of the President, Cook County Board of Commissioners), Patrick Keenan-Devlin (James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy), and Cara Smith (Office of the Cook County Sheriff).