ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- There are more 17-year-olds today in children’s courtrooms, answering to crimes they're accused of committing.
When 17-year-olds are arrested they now find themselves in this children's courtroom, not in adult court, facing far more serious charges.
Taryn Marko now works with many of those teens in Winnebago County's Juvenile Court System. She says a new state law that sends 17-year-olds to the less serious court gives them a better chance at a successful life.
"We need to help children succeed and to give them appropriate care right from the get-go is going to help them be successful members of society. It is going to lead to better educated members here in our community," Marko, Program Director for CASA, said.
It's a change Winnebago County State's Attorney Joe Bruscato also supports.
"Their minds and experience and maturity hasn't developed and giving them an opportunity to turn their lives around within the confines of the juvenile system was preferred," Bruscato said.
Winnebago County opened an extra juvenile courtroom at the beginning of the year to coincide with the change in the law. Marko says it's not just 17-year-olds who are benefiting. She says the 1,400 children's cases open right now are moving through the court process quicker.
"When families come to the attention of abuse and neglect court they are in crisis, there is something going on that needs to immediately be taken care of, so to get these families served immediately is of the utmost importance. We're talking about children's safety here," Marko said.
There are some serious cases, like murders, where 17-year-olds will still automatically be charged as adults. Prosecutors can also ask to have a case switched to adult court if they feel the crime fits the punishment.