Profile for Change: Arthur D. Bishop
Arthur D. Bishop Director, Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice
For more than 35 years, social service has been a part of Arthur D. Bishop’s daily life.
Bishop, the Director of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), began a career in social service in 1975 as a caseworker encouraging youth to stay in school on the West Side of Chicago, giving support to families trying to cope with mental health problems and helping those released from mental institutions adjust to life back in communities.
Bishop, who has been in office for nearly nine months, recently reflected on a career path that has included direct service to people addicted to drugs and alcohol and individuals with various forms of mental illness. For the past 16 years, he has worked for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) where he moved through the ranks from caseworker to Deputy Director of Field Operations until Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn tapped him to head DJJ.
“My approach has always been to do the best I can in the job I have at the moment,” Bishop said. “I believe that God will direct my path if I’m being a good steward at what he has planned, and that’s how I approach everything that I do.”
As DJJ Director, Bishop encourages coordination with the many state and local governments and service agencies dealing with children. He believes that DJJ should be viewed as providing a continuum of services that includes prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and community re-engagement. When any youth enters a DJJ facility, Bishop wants the planning and preparation to begin for the day that youth leaves DJJ.
“We’ll have a core treatment team that works with the youth from the front door at admission throughout their reentry back to the community,” he said. “We will make sure that all of the different components within the facility are working together.”
By doing more to engage families and involving community-based providers of services before a youth leaves a facility, Bishop believes the youth will have a better chance of succeeding and remaining out of trouble and out of the system.
Just a few days before Bishop assumed the helm of the DJJ, Illinois Models for Change released an assessment of DJJ’s efforts to meet the behavioral health needs of youth committed to the state’s eight youth institutions. Conducted at the request of the previous director, the team of experts found serious deficiencies in the ways in which DJJ could address the serious mental health needs of its population and recommended ways to improve screening, care and programming. Bishop was fully briefed on the findings and went to work on implementing those recommendations, as well as changes outlined in the Department’s master plan and suggestions from reform advocates.
“We’ve looked into all of those findings and reports and have begun to implement those recommendations we can do immediately,” said Bishop, who cites improving assessment of the mental health needs of the more than 1,150 youth at DJJ, educating staff about brain research and the impact of trauma, and advanced planning to connect youth leaving DJJ with appropriate treatment services in the community.
In the past year, 86 DJJ supervisors have received training – utilizing the curriculum developed in Illinois for the Models for Change Mental Health Action Network -- to better understand how trauma impacts youth and how to respond better to the mental health needs of youth in the system. The training has now become part of the core curriculum for staff, old and new.
Recently, new aftercare workers have been hired and trained to work with some of the juveniles from Chicago. Although they are “aftercare” workers, their contact with the youth begins inside DJJ facilities, with the goal of better preparing each youth for life back in their communities. The new aftercare workers have only youth in their caseloads. They take the place of parole agents with a caseload of adults and juveniles, and this may lead eventually to two statewide systems of parole – one handling adults and the other trained and working only with youth.
Last year, the state started planning for a merger of DJJ with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), but Bishop described merger discussions as being “on the sidelines.” Teams of various state agency leaders and juvenile justice advocates began work on merger details, but they now are focused on improving DJJ and services to children short of a merger, focusing on shared services relationships with other state agencies as outlined in a new law that became effective this January.
Excerpts from an interview with Arthur D. Bishop:
Did you ever dream you would one day be operating a youth prison system?
I never, never, never thought about it in my life, not until I was approached about being Director of DJJ. My focus is always on the job at-hand, rather than on potential opportunities in the future. When I was first approached about leading DJJ, though, I was both honored and excited – and am even more excited now about the future of the agency.
Before taking this position, had you ever been inside a youth prison?
Yes. In child welfare, about 7 to 10 percent of the population is dually involved youth. When I was a caseworker, I had youth on my caseload who were incarcerated. So, I had to learn the inner workings of the facilities and also the various layers of people within the facility so that we could develop a plan for those youth after they were discharged.
You’re heading an agency that was split from the adult corrections department in 2006. The idea at the time was to make the new Department of Juvenile Justice operate less like the Department of Corrections (DOC) and more like the Missouri system with a focus on rehabilitation and lower rates of recidivism. Do you think people will sometime look up to Illinois as they do Missouri now?
Yes. I think the changes and the innovations we are implementing will begin to show results in the next three to five years. For example, we’ve looked at the impact of what improved aftercare would do. By focusing more on helping youth succeed after they leave our facilities, we can lower the number returning here. We projected it out to about 10 years, and I think we probably would be able to save about $20 million and also improve community safety.
How much resistance is there to this change within DJJ?
You’re talking about a culture but our staff want to do right by our youth. There are some pockets of resistance. I think some staff are just saying: “Is this real, or is this just a flavor of the month? The other piece is there are staff who want to change and have historically cried out for support, education and training, and they haven’t gotten it in the past. So, they are taking a wait-and-see attitude. We have to take into account all of those professionals, reach out to all of them and provide the training. But we really believe that the train has turned around and is heading in the right direction in terms of changing the culture.
Do you have enough help to make all of the changes you have outlined?
We can’t do this without the support and partnership we’ve had from the MacArthur Foundation, from our Juvenile Justice Advisory Board, the Juvenile Justice Commission, and then other state agency directors from DCFS, DOC and DHS. Many are contributing to changing DJJ. Without having support and vision and sensitivity from the governor’s office, we wouldn’t be able to be where we are today. It has been critical for the governor’s office and his staff to understand and support what we are trying to accomplish, too.
Has anything surprised you since you became Director?
Not really. I came out of child welfare. I oversaw close to 600 staff. I had to work effectively with the union. I have worked in a residential program before. I know how the institution side of that work is and the mindset of that work. And also, I believe that if you have a leadership vision and you make sure you involve and engage as many of your staff as possible, there will be success. I’m glad to say we now have a strong administrative team.