Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn Signs Legislation Requiring Consideration of Community Treatment Before Incarceration in All Juvenile Cases
SPRINGFIELD, IL – Before sentencing a youth to time in a state prison, juvenile court judges in Illinois will soon be required to review several factors, including the youth’s mental health and educational needs, and issue a finding that secure confinement is necessary based on that review.
The legislation (House Bill 83), which was signed by Gov. Pat Quinn, directs judges to consider whether treatment in a youth's community would be a better option than sentencing the youth to incarceration in a state juvenile prison. HB 83 was signed on Aug. 15 and will take effect on January 1, 2012.
“Removing children from their homes and committing them to the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice is a serious decision with far-reaching ramifications, which is why it is critical that our justice system better examine other alternatives,” said Rep. Karen D. Yarbrough, D-Maywood, who was the chief sponsor of HB 83.
“When we talk about juvenile justice, it is important to remember that we aren’t just dealing with behaviors that exist at a specific moment in time,” Yarbrough added. “The way we address and punish delinquent minors has a lasting effect on the life of the child, and extends into adulthood. If we can make it easier for them to better their lives and avoid creating a lifelong criminal, we should exhaust every other alternative before confinement.”
The amendment to the Illinois Juvenile Court Act does not constrain the ability of judges to commit youth to the Illinois Department of Justice (DJJ) when necessary to protect public safety.
Advocates of the reform said it is intended to make certain that all judges look carefully at all aspects of juvenile cases and determine what sentence is best for the youth and the community. Before finding that secure confinement is necessary, judges will have reviewed the juvenile’s criminal record; any results of behavioral assessments using a standardized assessment tool; the youth’s educational background, including any assessment of learning disabilities; the physical, mental and emotional health of the minor; and other factors, including whether services in DJJ will be meet the individualized needs of the youth.
The legislation was backed by several reform groups, including the Juvenile Justice Initiative (JJI), a statewide advocacy coalition aimed at highlighting and supporting more effective, fair and rational juvenile justice policy and practice across the state.
Elizabeth Clarke, JJI President, said the reform can save tax dollars and have better outcomes for the youth and their communities.
“This change maximizes limited juvenile justice dollars,” Clarke said. “It ensures costly juvenile prisons are utilized only as a last resort by requiring juvenile courts to review all available alternatives to incarceration. In addition, by mandating that juvenile courts make all reasonable efforts to keep youth at home, it will help Illinois access federal funding for treatment for youth in the justice system.”
Clarke said the results of research, including the Research on Pathways to Desistance Study, have helped government leaders understand that lengthy stays in prison do not reduce recidivism and that substance abuse treatment appears to reduce both substance abuse and offending. Supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Pathways is a long-term study of more than 1,300 juvenile offenders and has shown that institutional placement appears to have no advantage over probation in reducing rates of re-arrest or self-reported offending.
“Not only is incarceration expensive – it doesn’t work,” said Sen. Annazette Collins, D-Chicago, who was chief sponsor of HB 83 in the Senate. “Community programs that follow nationally recognized best practices and focus on improving family and educational functioning have far better success at turning youth away from delinquency and keeping them involved in productive activities. Thus, we hope this change will remind juvenile courts to review all available options and exhaust every possible alternative prior to giving up on the youth.”
In addition to chief sponsors Rep. Yarbrough and Sen. Collins, other sponsors of HB 83 included Reps. Robyn Gabel, D-Evanston; Elizabeth Hernandez, D-Cicero; Cynthia Soto, D-Chicago; and Derrick Smith, D-Chicago; and Sen. Heather A. Steans, D-Chicago.