CHICAGO (CBS) — Carjackings have pretty much dominated our headlines over the last few months, and the CBS 2 Investigators have learned the majority of the arrests have involved juveniles.

As CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey reported, there is a renewed push for stiffer penalties for those caught. Some have questioned whether the penalties for juvenile offenders are doing enough to solve the problem.

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Some Illinois lawmakers have also been trying to push stiffer penalties for years, but some advocates say we are not looking at the right problem.

We didn’t have to wait long before we heard the police scanner calls Thursday afternoon for a carjacking in the 900 block of West Weed Street in the Goose Island area.

“They took her and put her against the wall,” the dispatcher was heard saying. “They pulled up on her, robbed her of her purse.”

In that incident, a woman was robbed of her Porsche Cayenne at gunpoint.

“I don’t know if it really matters if it’s in my neighborhood, because it’s everywhere,” a witness said.

Juvenile arrests in particular have turned heads in recent weeks. One suspect last week was just 13 years old.

State Rep. Jaime Andrade (D-Chicago) said the carjacking crisis is something he’s been battling for years.

“There has to be some accountability, and I truly believe that juveniles are being told by the adults who are organizing these carjackings that there will be no consequences – you will be fine,” Andrade said.

In 2020, there were 1,416 reported carjackings. The CPD reported 188 arrests for vehicular hijacking, and 106 of those arrests were juveniles.

A 2016 state law made it more difficult to transfer 15-, 16-, and 17-year-olds to adult court if charged with aggravated carjacking or armed robbery with a gun.

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In 2018, Rep. Andrade helped pass HB1804, but he admits it was heavily watered down and did not address juvenile carjacking penalties as he had hoped.

“It would be virtually zero chance to pass that bill right now,” Andrade said.

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Garien Gatewood from the Illinois Justice Project said with so few carjackings ending in arrests, it’s difficult to know for certain how large a part juveniles play.

“When you say things like, well, this system is too soft and we don’t want to have penalties, it disregards the trauma that you’ve suffered and the trauma that you encounter as they sit in these prisons; as they sit in these jails; as they sit in these detention centers,” Gatewood said.

Long incarcerations, he said, are shown to cause more damage to juveniles than good. But if enhancing penalties isn’t the answer, then what is?

“To change that mindset, right?” Gatewood said. “We have to surround folks with improvement services that focus on long term positive outcomes.”

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Hickey reached out to the Cook County Circuit Court for comment. Mary Wisniewski, Director of Communications for the Office of the Chief Judge, supplied the following information from the Juvenile Probation Department about services offered at the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center:

“For those young people placed on a sentence of probation in lieu of prison for vehicular hijacking, probation officers will provide the full spectrum of case management services that include working with youth to understand the behavior and thinking that led to the problematic behavior and provide opportunities and experiences to challenge that pattern of behavior. Such opportunities and experiences may include completing victim impact statements, participating in restorative justice processes, including peace circles with victim or community representatives to speak through the harm between perpetrator, victim, and community and set possible goals for the youth to accomplish as a way to address the harm. More direct services to the family and youth can include school and vocational support services and clinical assessment and evaluation.”

The court system declined to comment on charging decisions.

Hickey also requested hard numbers from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office on the number of arrests of carjacking suspects that actually result in charges. They released some figures, but keep in mind they track cases, not individual arrests.

In 2020, they reviewed 76 adult and 74 cases were approved. They also reviewed 84 juvenile cases and 77 cases were approved.

The office noted that juvenile cases are not reviewed by the State’s Attorney’s office Felony Review unit like adult cases, but are instead reviewed and filed by assistant state’s attorneys to a corresponding courtroom based on location.

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An interactive map at this link shows the change in the number of carjackings in Chicago neighborhoods between 2019 and 2020.

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Megan Hickey