New Chair of Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission Talks About Future of Reform in Illinois
Retired Judge George W. Timberlake, who is a member of the Illinois Models for Change Coordinating Council, recently was named Chair of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission (IJJC).
Timberlake retired in 2006 as Chief Judge of the Second Judicial Circuit in Southeastern Illinois where he served as a trial court judge for 23 years. He is Chairman of the Second Circuit Juvenile Justice Council, which administers one of the five Models for Change demonstration sites in Illinois. He is president of the Jefferson Policy Consultants in Mt. Vernon, Illinois, and is a volunteer member of the boards of the Illinois Balanced and Restorative Justice Project, the Juvenile Justice Initiative, and the Redeploy Illinois Oversight Board.
The following interview was conducted shortly after Gov. Pat Quinn designated him as Chair of the IJCC.
Q. For those not familiar with the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, why does it exist and what does it do?
A. It has three main responsibilities.
First, it decides how to spend the federal Title II money for a variety of juvenile justice activities. It also decides how to use Title V funds, which help prevention efforts at the state and local levels. That’s about $2.4 million for juvenile justice. Those federal funds have been reduced in recent years but are still considerable.
As required by the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, the money is used to ensure that Illinois is in compliance with its core requirements -- reducing the disproportionate number of minority youngsters coming in contact with the system; keeping incarcerated adult and juvenile offenders separated so that cannot see or hear one another; reporting statistics on status offenders securely detained in a jail, lockup or detention center; and making sure those juveniles placed in a locked setting during an investigation be transferred to a juvenile detention center within six hours.
Second, the Commission provides policy advice to the Governor and the Illinois Department of Human Services.
Third, we create a juvenile justice plan for the Governor, and provide annual reports about progress in meeting that plan.
So, the Commission spends money, but it also reports on how the money has been spent, gives the public data about the system and advises government leaders on how to make more improvements.
Q. Gov. Quinn, who just finished his first year in the office, has named several new members to fill vacancies on the 25-member commission. How did the vacancies impact the commission’s work?
A. As with any board with several vacancies, it can be hard just to get enough members together to have a quorum to conduct business. For far too long, all of the work of the Commission was carried on the shoulders of the few remaining members and staff at the Department of Human Services. There is no question they are dedicated to improving juvenile justice and have been conscientious about the business of the commission, but it’s just not healthy to put all of the responsibilities of a large commission in the hands of a few. It also did not meet the mandate of the rules that say you must have representation from several different categories like the field of drug treatment, law enforcement, volunteers working with delinquents and even young people who have been in the juvenile justice system.
Q. The law requires at least five of the 25 members are to be under the age of 24 and at least three of them must either now be under the jurisdiction of the juvenile justice system or have been earlier in their lives. Why is that important?
A. The youth really do need to be represented. One of our counties has a youth advisory board and their maxim is: “Don’t make decisions about us without us.” And I agree. The youth voice ought to be there, and it ought to be from kids who have been in the system. It is good for us to hear about their experiences in society in general and how the system affects them. We’re not just getting a different point of view. It comes from someone with some first-hand experience in the system.
Q. How do you view the commission’s role in giving advice to the Governor?
A. The commission should be the forum for discussing juvenile justice issues in Illinois. The commission should acquire information from advocacy groups, from basic research, from other state agencies and actors. Based upon all of that information-gathering, the commission should make recommendations to the Governor’s Office and to the Secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services. In addition, I would like to see us publish issue briefs on a frequent basis.
Q. The state has a separate advisory board to the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), which was created in 2005. Will the IJJC also give advice to DJJ?
A. There is some overlap with that advisory board, but I don’t see any conflict. In fact, I would like to see more direct collaboration between the Commission and the advisory board. DJJ is in a great state of flux, and the federal funds allocated by IJJC to DJJ have been appropriate. The Department has made great stride in planning and some progress at education, programming and re-entry. I would like to see greater funding flexibility for DJJ and generally more adequate resources. Going forward, however, if the IJJC is going to continue to fund DJJ, it should be in the quest for a model that is less reliant on the use of the juvenile correctional institutions.
Q. What’s your view of juvenile justice in Illinois today?
A. There are a lot of committed people with a lot of energy working to improve the system in Illinois, and change is in progress. Nonetheless, the state and most counties rely too much on incarceration as a response to crime by youth. We know it is ineffective. We know it is too expensive. We also know there are many better alternatives, and the commission must do more to encourage alternatives to incarceration.
As a general principle from research, we know that half of the kids in DJJ are mentally ill and 80 percent of them abuse substances. A disproportionate number have been involved in the child welfare system, and domestic battery is a driver of juvenile crime.
Thanks to research, we know a lot about these kids, and we know the system we have does not adequately respond to the research that exists. Therefore, the outcomes we get are not as effective for public safety as they could be. And they certainly are not as effective in changing the juveniles so that they commit fewer crimes in the future.
Q. How long before Illinois is an ideal state for juvenile justice?
A. With sustained effort over the next 10 years, we could have a model system – one that is a model from a youth’s first contact with the police all the way to when the youth leaves the Department of Juvenile Justice and returns to his or her neighborhood. We can get to the ideal in 10 years, but we need to see significant improvements each and every year.
The focus has to be on positive outcomes for kids in the juvenile justice system. We want to be a state where a kid looking back should be able to say: That was the best thing that ever happened to me. My contact with the juvenile justice system made me a better person . . . saved my life.