Full Report  |  Juvenile Sex Offenders

An examination of juvenile sex offenders in the Illinois juvenile justice system

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An adjudication for a sex offense can bring with it lifelong repercussions for juveniles. In many jurisdictions, including Illinois, adjudication for a sex crime can trigger sex offender registration requirements for youth, even for lower classes of offenses. In Illinois, as of August 2016, there were 2,750 individuals on the sex offender registry for sex offenses committed as youth—1,985 on lifetime registration and 765 on 10-year registration. Sex offender registration can have negative financial, emotional, and social effects on youth who commit sex offenses and on their families. Youth may become financially dependent on their families even into adulthood due to employment limitations imposed upon registered sex offenders, and may also put additional financial burdens on families as youth.1 The negative attention associated with registration, including harassment of one’s family or self, can lead directly to isolation and depression.2 There are also additional state and federal restrictions that may have other negative impacts on juvenile sex offenders and their families.

The implications of juvenile sex offender registration laws must be understood within the larger context of youth development and juvenile justice. Several Supreme Court cases have established that the Constitution applies differently to youth and adults due to youths’ lesser culpability, diminishing justification for harsh sentencing of youth despite potentially severe crimes.3 Ultimately, the Supreme Court acknowledges youths’ increased capacity for change and lesser culpability, providing the basis for viewing juveniles through a different lens constitutionally.4 While the juvenile justice system was created to treat and rehabilitate, responses to juveniles who are adjudicated delinquent for sex offenses, like lifetime sex offender registration, are similar to the responses to adults convicted of sex offenses, which are more punitive in nature.5

Given the consequences of sex offender registration laws, it is important to continually study the number and characteristics of those impacted by these laws, and whether sentences for adults are appropriate for juveniles. Additionally, it is beneficial to identify what is required of juveniles on the sex offender registry, as the requirements may differ from adults and currently lack clarity or consistency across the state (i.e. residence, employment). With funding assistance from the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (Authority) researchers analyzed the characteristics of youth arrested, detained, and admitted to corrections in 2014 for sex offenses and associated trends from 2004 to 2014. Arrests, detentions, and corrections admissions are the juvenile justice system decision points for which data were available at the individual-level. For this study, the sex offenses analyzed were defined as follows:

  • aggravated criminal sexual assault [720 ILCS 5/11-1.30];
  • criminal sexual assault [720 ILCS 5/11-1.20];
  • aggravated criminal sexual abuse [720 ILCS 5/11-1.60]; and
  • criminal sexual abuse [720 ILCS 5/11-1.50].

Overall, the data indicate that, consistent with the literature, a small percentage of youth were arrested, detained, or admitted to corrections for sex offenses in 2014. Moreover, the number of juveniles entering the system for these offenses has been decreasing since 2004 ( Figure 1). This decline is consistent with that noted for all juveniles entering the juvenile justice system generally in Illinois. 6

Figure 1

Data source: Authority analysis of Criminal History Record Information (CHRI) data, Juvenile Monitoring Information System (JMIS) data, and Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ) data. More detail about these systems is available later in the report.
Note: Between 2004 through 2009, juveniles consisted of 10 to 16-year olds. In 2010, statute changed to incorporate 17-year olds arrested for misdemeanors. In 2014, the statute changed again to incorporate all 17-year olds as part of the juvenile system.

Juvenile Arrests for Sex Offenses

In Illinois in 2014, there were 231 juvenile arrests (10- to 17-year olds) for sex offenses, about a 51 percent decrease from 2004. White and Black youth accounted for similar proportions of juvenile arrests for sex offenses (49 percent and 47 percent, respectively). Although White and Black youth accounted for relatively similar proportions of arrests, Black youth were arrested at a rate disproportionate to their representation within the population (they only account for 15 percent of the youth population in Illinois).

Juvenile Detention Admissions for Sex Offenses

Of the 160 youth admitted to detention for sex offenses in 2014 (a 22 percent decrease from the 206 youth detained for sex offenses in 2004), 48 percent were charged with aggravated criminal sexual assault. In addition, 37 percent were arrested in Cook County and 78 percent were between the ages of 14 and 18. White and Black youth accounted for similar proportions of detention admissions (45 percent and 50 percent, respectively). The length of stay for youth detained for sex offenses was more than twice the length of stay for all detainees. Males as well as those between 16- and 17-years old and Black youth generally experienced longer lengths of stay than other youth detained for sex offenses.

Compared to female youth, male youth were detained, on average, 52 more days for aggravated criminal sexual assault, 44 more days for criminal sexual assault, and 28 more days for aggravated criminal sexual abuse.7 Compared to White youth, Black youth were held in detention, on average, 40 more days for aggravated criminal sexual assault offenses and 12 more days for criminal sexual assault offenses. White youth were held, on average, 7 days longer for aggravated criminal sexual abuse offenses and 9 days longer for criminal sexual abuse offenses.

The average length of stay in detention for 16- to 17-year olds was approximately 86 days for aggravated criminal sexual assault, 57 days for criminal sexual assault, 44 days for aggravated criminal sexual abuse, and 68 days for criminal sexual abuse. On average, compared to 16- and 17-year olds, 14- to 15- year olds spent approximately 38 days less detained for aggravated criminal sexual assault, 11 days less for criminal sexual assault, 2 days less for aggravated criminal sexual abuse, and 48 days less for criminal sexual abuse. Compared to 16- and 17-year olds average length of stay in detention, 12- to 13- year olds spent 53 days less for aggravated criminal sexual assault, 40 days less for criminal sexual assault, 42 days less for aggravated criminal sexual abuse, and 59 days less for criminal sexual abuse. Few 10- to 11-year olds were detained for any sex offense.

Juvenile Corrections Admissions for Sex Offenses

In 2014, there were 20 youth admitted to corrections for a new offense following adjudication for a sex offense, a 51 percent decrease from the 87 admitted in 2004. The percentage of White youth admitted to corrections was higher than Black youth (55 and 40, respectively), although Black youth were still overrepresented compared to their representation in the general population. Further, though over half of juvenile sex offense arrests came out of Cook County, new admissions for juveniles adjudicated delinquent for a sex offense came predominately from the central and southern regions of Illinois in 2014.

Implications for Policy and Practice

Examine policies and practices that produce racial disparities and overrepresentation within the juvenile justice system

Overall, White and Black youth accounted for a similar percentage of arrests involving sex offenses, although the specific underlying offenses were different. When compared to their representation in the general population, however, Black youth were notably overrepresented at every decision point examined. Moreover, the data showed that Black youth experienced, on average, longer lengths of stay in detention for sex offenses than White youth. These differences warrant further investigation. Research to examine this issue should also explore whether this disproportionately impacts the youth subject to sex offender registration because of the potential adverse effects on the individual, in addition to negative familial and community costs.

Examine extent juveniles understand their rights

Over 2,500 Illinois individuals who were adjudicated delinquent for sex offenses as youth are on the sex offender registry, 72 percent for life, and because of this it is important that the juvenile justice system accurately provide, and juveniles fully understand, registry requirements and restrictions. In Illinois, it is required that juveniles adjudicated delinquent for a sex offense register with his or her local police agency under the Sex Offender Registration Act [730 ILCS 150], in addition to any other probation or parole restrictions imposed by the juvenile court. In some cases, juveniles have been asked to abide by rules of the adult sex offender registry which has more restrictions in areas such as housing [730 ILCS 150/3-5]8; however, little is identified in case law or understood regarding what is and is not required for Illinois juvenile sex offenders.

Further, little is known about the extent that juveniles fully understand their rights and restrictions as a registered sex offender. Juveniles adjudicated delinquent for a sex offense are generally informed of their registration requirement post-plea deal, but there is no legal requirement to inform juveniles at adjudication.9 Sex offender registration laws can be very confusing to even juvenile justice personnel. Registration laws vary across states and jurisdictions within a state, and have changed over time.10 Research has found juvenile justice practitioners have differing perspectives and understanding of enforcement of sex offender laws.11 Other states hold juveniles adjudicated delinquent for a sex offense to residency restrictions; however, the state of Illinois does not—though this does not encompass federal housing restrictions (T. Newton, personal communication, August 26, 2016).

  1. Comartin, E. B., Kernsmith, P. D., & Miles, B. W. (2010). Family experiences of young adult sex offender registration. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 19(2), 204-225.
  2. Frierson, R. L., Dwyer, R. G., Bell, C. C., & Williamson, J. L. (2008). The mandatory registration of juvenile sex offenders and commitment of juveniles as sexually violent predators: Controversies and recommendations. Adolescent Psychiatry, 30, 55-71.
  3. Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, (2005).; Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, (2010).; Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455, (2012).
  4. Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, (2010).
  5. Justice Policy Institute. (2008). Registering harm: How sex offense registries fail youth and communities. Washington, DC: Author.
  6. Hughes, E. (2016). Juvenile justice system in Illinois, 2014. Chicago, IL: Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.
  7. There were no identified criminal sexual abuse detention commitments for female youth.
  8. Letourneau, E. J., Dipankar, B., Sinha, D., & Armstrong, K. (2009). Effects of sex offender
    registration policies on juvenile justice decision making. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 21, 149-165.; Human Rights Watch. (2012). US Supreme Court: Positive youth sentencing ruling. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/2j97bIB.
  9. Human Rights Watch. (2012). US Supreme Court: Positive youth sentencing ruling. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/2j97bIB.
  10. Lytle, R. (2015). Variation in criminal justice policy-making: An exploratory study using sex offender registration and community notification laws. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 26(3), 211-233.
  11. Mustaine, E. E., Tweksbury, R., Connor, D. P., & Payne, B. K. (2015). Criminal justice officials’ views of sex offenders, sex offender registration, community notification, and residency restrictions. Justice System Journal, 36(1), 63-85.


Vernon S. Smith was an intern with the Authority’s Research and Analysis Unit. Vernon received his master’s degree in social service administration from the University of Chicago and his bachelor’s degree in sociology from Northwestern University. He is currently working as a program and management analyst for the US Department of Education. Vernon is particularly interested in issues related to drug prevention and rehabilitation, juvenile justice, and the school to prison pipeline.

Lily Gleicher

Lily Gleicher joined ICJIA as a research analyst in the Center for Justice Research and Evaluation in July 2016. Her research interests include implementation and sustainability of evidence-based practices, correctional treatment and rehabilitation, mental and behavioral health, and criminal justice and correctional policy. Prior to joining the Authority, Lily was a research assistant at the University of Cincinnati Corrections Institute, where she trained others on the Effective Practices in Community Supervision (EPICS) model and co-authored an article for Federal Probation entitled “Creating a Supervision Tool Kit: How to Improve Probation and Parole.” The article described three similar models for effective supervision meetings between probation/parole officers and their clients supported by research findings. Lily also completed professional internships with the Lake County Therapeutic Intensive Monitoring Courts and the Probation Sex Offender Unit in Hartford, Conn. Lily received a bachelor’s degree in political science from University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Cincinnati. She is a University of Cincinnati Ph.D. candidate with a concentration in corrections and criminal justice systems.

Caitlin DeLong

Caitlin DeLong is an Authority research consultant whose work focuses on public health disparities, correctional best practices, and program evaluation. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s degree in criminology (with a concentration in violence prevention) from the University of Illinois Chicago.

Erica Hughes

Erica Hughes was an Authority research analyst. She received a Bachelor of Science in Human Resources and Family Studies at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana and a Master of Arts in Criminal Justice at University of Illinois Chicago. Her areas of interest include juvenile justice, victims, victim services, and college campus crime. Ms. Hughes was with the Authority since 1998.

An examination of juvenile sex offenders in the Illinois juvenile justice system