Illinois Abolishes Life-Without-Parole Sentences for Children


Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a new law on Friday that extends parole eligibility for people convicted of offenses when they were under 21, making Illinois the 26th state to abolish life-without-parole sentences for children.

Illinois provided parole review for most young people in 2019, but that Youthful Parole Law did not apply to people sentenced to natural life imprisonment, people convicted of first degree murder of a law enforcement officer, or people convicted of predatory criminal sexual assault.

The new law, Public Act 102-1128, eliminates the first two exceptions and, because people under 18 cannot be sentenced to natural life for predatory criminal sexual assault, it finally abolishes all life-without-parole sentences for children under 18.

It also means that most people sentenced after June 1, 2019, for offenses when they were under 21 will now become eligible for parole after 10 years for most offenses, 20 years for first degree murder and aggravated sexual assault, and 40 years for natural life sentences.

Rep. Rita Mayfield (D-Waukegan) co-sponsored the bill in the House. “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,” she said.

“[P]rison 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.”

The bill passed the House with bipartisan support in 2021 before arriving in the Senate, where Sen. Don Dewitte (R-St. Charles) called on his colleagues from the Senate floor to offer hope to youthful offenders.

“I consider myself a law-and-order Republican, but I also believe in rehabilitation,” he said. “[I]f you believe that, given guidelines and benchmarks, these convicted young people can reach to prove that they can become contributing members of our society, then don’t just vote your conscience, vote your Christian conscience. Vote that people can redeem themselves.”

The bill passed the Senate with three-quarters of the vote on January 10, 2023.

Last week, lawmakers introduced Senate Bill 2073, which would make both the 2019 and the new law retroactive to people currently in prison. Restore Justice says that would provide parole eligibility to 3,253 people who are incarcerated for offenses committed when they were under 21.