CHARLES JONES

First Defense Legal Aid

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AUBURN GRESHAM

At 17 years old I was accused of being involved in a murder and was arrested. I was taken into custody at Cook County Jail. My mother came to the station and demanded to see me but was denied because I was not recognized as a juvenile. I did not receive adequate legal counsel or representation and I was tried as an adult instead of a juvenile. Although I maintained my innocence throughout the trial, I was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison. After serving 20 years for a crime I did not commit, I felt compelled to work with young people who have had similar or negative experiences with law enforcement and advocate for juvenile justice reform.  

"As a father of four children, I want to make sure that my two boys grow up in a safe community and that any youth that encounters the juvenile justice system is treated fairly and guaranteed legal representation."

I joined First Defense Legal Aid (FDLA) and their campaign to advocate for Senate Bill 2370. The bill raises the age from 13 to 15 for a requirement that children be represented by lawyers during custodial interrogations for homicide and sex offenses. The bill also requires videotaping all interrogations of children under age 18 for any felony and some misdemeanor cases.

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The recent passage of the bill is a significant win for juvenile rights and an important push for police accountability and transparency, but we still have a long way to go to ensure rights for juveniles in this state and across the country. As a leader with FDLA and full-time employee with CeaseFire Illinois, I work with at risk young people to inform them of their rights and responsibilities.  As a father of four children, I want to make sure that my two boys grow up in a safe community and that any youth that encounters the juvenile justice system is treated fairly and guaranteed legal representation.