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Illinois Report Recommends Extensive Changes to Reverse Juvenile Recidivism Trend

CHICAGO – While noting progress has been made on several reforms within the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), an Illinois state commission has issued a road map of additional changes needed throughout the juvenile justice system

“An essential measurement of any juvenile “reentry” system is whether youth returning from incarceration remain safely and successfully within their communities,” according to the Youth Reentry Improvement Report.  “By this fundamental measure, Illinois is failing.”

The Youth Reentry Improvement Report includes a series of findings and recommendations to improve public safety, reduce government spending on youth prisons, protect the constitutional rights of juveniles and increase the likelihood that young offenders will become responsible adults.

In preparing the report, the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, analyzed the files of more than 380 youth with recent parole revocations, and Commission members observed more than 230 Illinois Prisoner Review Board (PRB) hearings – the first independent observation of its kind for hearings closed to the general public.

The Youth Reentry Improvement Report found that the system does little to prepare youth and families for the youths’ return home; paroled youth rarely receive needed services or school linkages and too often are returned to expensive youth prisons due to technical parole violations; and PRB parole revocation proceedings are largely perfunctory hearings where the youth’s due process rights are not protected.

Recommendations include improved screening assessments and development of case plans for youth entering DJJ; advanced, on-going training for PRB members; making legal advocates available to protect the constitutional rights of youth; placing aftercare specialists with a juvenile-only caseload to ensure youth receive necessary services upon release and work with youth and families from the day the youth enters DJJ through parole; and setting a time limit for parole rather than the current common practice of keeping youth on parole until their 21st birthday.

"These recommendations, if implemented, could save money, save lives, and reduce the expensive cycle of reincarceration, which feeds our now overcrowded adult prisons as these youth go deeper and deeper into crime,” said George W. Timberlake, who is Chair of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission and retired chief judge of Illinois’ Second Judicial Circuit.

“Studies show what we already know – that youth rehabilitation is most often successful when the counseling and mentoring are delivered in the youth’s home community,” said Arthur D. Bishop, Director of DJJ and a member of the Juvenile Justice Commission. “But we have not, and will not, give up on those youth who must be sent to our secured facilities. We are working hard to make sure that, while in our facilities, youth’s strengths and needs are properly addressed and discharge planning is initiated at the time of admission, ensuring they return to their communities with a solid, practical plan for support and supervision.

“We support these recommendations for improvements both inside DJJ and in the communities,” Bishop continued. “DJJ has implemented a number of the report’s recommendations and hope to be able to do much more in the near future.”

Read complete report here: http://www.dhs.state.il.us/page.aspx?item=58025

The links below will take you to more information and commentary on the report and juvenile reentry in Illinois: