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Crime & Courts

McMahon looking for ways to improve juvenile justice system, expresses concern about marijuana legalization

McMahon cites cities' work to aid juveniles before they become adult offenders during monthly briefing

ST. CHARLES TOWNSHIP – Ways to reduce juvenile delinquency and crime, saying good-bye to his first assistant and concern for public safety when recreational marijuana becomes legal was the focus of Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon at his monthly media briefing June 11.

McMahon said in a couple of weeks, a partnership with the Kane County Juvenile Justice Council will put on an all-day training on juvenile law for all juvenile officers in the county.

McMahon is chairman of the council, which is a multi-agency group that includes the chief judge, probation, the sheriff, some community service providers and the public defender.

“The goal of the Juvenile Justice Council is to identify and come up with ways to reduce juvenile delinquency and juvenile crime and the behaviors things that might lead to it,” McMahon said.

“We’re going to talk about some of the changes that have taken place over the last year in relation to juvenile law – the science behind the juvenile brain and how juveniles are a little more impulse-driven oriented,” McMahon said. “And how we can respond to juvenile incidents that won’t lead to what we call kind of ‘the escalator effect’ where somebody comes into the criminal justice system as a juvenile. They … ratchet up over the next couple of years, and then two-three years later, we see them in adult court.”

McMahon said the Illinois Supreme Court issued a decision recently in which juveniles who were sentenced to 40 or more years will be entitled to a new sentencing hearing.

He was referring to juveniles who have committed murder, finished serving time in juvenile detention and were transferred to adult prison.

The court found that sentences of 40 or more years were tantamount to being a life sentence and a new sentencing hearing would determine if another sentence is more appropriate, McMahon said.

Elgin and Aurora have talked with the Juvenile Justice Council about ways to partner and reduce juvenile crime, McMahon said.

“I want to compliment both those departments of the two largest communities in the county,” McMahon said. “Just over 60% of all juvenile arrests by those two departments are already being diverted (from) coming into the criminal justice system.”

The juvenile’s guardian or parents are called to sit down with the juvenile officer and talk about their conduct. The result being that the youthful offender would receive counseling, community service, possibly be referred to local peer juries to deal with the issues that led to the behavior, McMahon said.

“They’re both generous with the use ordinance violations as opposed to a formal criminal charge,” McMahon said. “Those are easier to expunge from their record after the local ordinance charge is resolved. So they’re already doing great work.”

When speaking about putting juveniles in custody, he said it is about one in 10, or less than 10%, are being sent directly to court through some type of detention hearing, he said.

“It’s a rare occurrence,” McMahon said. “And that’s the way it should be. It should be reserved for crimes of violence.”

McMahon also praised his First Assistant State’s Attorney Jody Gleason, who is leaving to serve as a judge in the 23rd Judicial Circuit in Kendall and DeKalb counties.

Gleason, who has worked in the State’s Attorney’s Office for 27 years, has handled everything from juvenile crime to property crime, crimes of violence, crimes against children and a significant number of high profile murder cases, he said.

“In addition to the incredible work she’s done in Kane County, she has represented this office and the people of the state of Illinois incredibly well,” McMahon said.

“She served as a Special Assistant United States Attorney with Patrick Fitzgerald from 2006 to 2010, prosecuting Aurora gang members on the RICO statues,” McMahon said. “She was a key member of my prosecution team on my Jason Van Dyke prosecution. She played a really significant role – not just in the day-to-day trial of that case – but helping me put together the overall trial strategy and getting that case to a successful resolution.”

McMahon said Gleason reflects the level of excellence of the lawyers who have worked at the state’s attorney’s office, where she is the sixth named to a judgeship in the last eight years.

Gleason’s last day will be June 21, he said.

As to appointing a new first assistant, McMahon said, “I’ve not decided yet, is the short answer.”

“There have been state’s attorney’s in the past that did not have a first assistant for part of the time or all of the time,” McMahon said. “I’m blessed with really experienced staff. I’ll sit down with them and talk about kind of needs and kind of options and where to go forward.”

In terms of the impending legalization of recreational marijuana, McMahon said his concern was for public safety. He acknowledged that Gov. Prizker is looking for ways to raise revenue from sources other than property taxes.

“The roads will be less safe. We will see a greater number of fatal traffic crashes as a result of people driving under the influence of cannabis,” McMahon said.
“We will see an increased use among teenagers of cannabis. This is exactly what happened in the states of Colorado and Washington. … Legalization of marijuana will have a negative impact on public safety.”

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