Juvenile Prison
File Photo | Photo: Se315 via Wikimedia Commons

A bill recently signed into law by Governor JB Pritzker will abolish life without parole sentences for defendants under the age of 21 in Illinois.

House Bill 1064 was first introduced in the Illinois General Assembly in February 2021.

Nearly two years later, the bill passed the Illinois House and Senate in January.

The bill allows a person, who is under the age of 21 at the time of an offense, to be eligible for parole after serving 40 years of their sentence.

The bill applies to those serving a sentence for first-degree murder or a term of natural life imprisonment.

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker signed the bill into law last month. It goes into effect on January 1, 2024.

The law makes Illinois the 26th state to end life without parole sentences for juvenile offenders.

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House Representatives Rita Mayfield (D-Waukegan) and Seth Lewis (R-Bartlett) sponsored the measure.

“Even when a crime is particularly severe, it should be recognized that a legal minor with their whole life still ahead has the potential to be reformed,” Mayfield said.

“I recognize that victims and their families may have concerns, and I don’t blame them. However, in a nation like ours, prison should be a place where people have the opportunity to transform themselves and become better people and productive members of society. I believe that giving everyone a chance at redemption is a moral duty,” Mayfield said.

Restore Justice Outreach Director Julie Anderson praised Pritzker and Illinois legislators for supporting the measure.

“In Illinois, we care about our children. Recognizing that young people can grow and change recognizes their humanity; it is an act of mercy and kindness,” Anderson said.

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Senator Donald DeWitte (R-St. Charles) spoke on the senator floor in favor of the bill.

“I consider myself a law-and-order Republican, but I also believe in rehabilitation. I believe there are some people who make extremely poor decisions in the very early portions of their lives who deserve consideration once they have met benchmarks and shown they are prepared to become contributing citizens after they have served their debt to society,” DeWitte said.

“For these people, we need to offer them hope and let them know we recognize that people can redeem themselves,” DeWitte said.