Tag Archive for Illinois

Illinois Badly Needs Further Juvenile Justice Reform

Seal of Illinois. Center image extracted from ...

Seal of Illinois.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Illinois has some of the harshest youth-sentencing laws in the United States, under which a child as young as 13 can be automatically sentenced to life in prison, with no discretion for a judge to consider age or individual circumstances.

Abner J. Mikva, a former chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and Peter Bensinger, a former administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, urge Illinois lawmakers to pass HB1348/SB1858, which would allow judges to consider a “youth’s unique circumstances, such as age, maturity and role in the crime.” The legislation follows the Supreme Court ruling last year in Miller v. Alabama banning mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles.

On May 14, 2013, the Illinois Senate voted  to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 18, so that 17-year-olds charged with misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies would be tried and sentenced in juvenile court rather than adult court. The bill, which was approved by the Illinois House last April, heads next to Gov. Pat Quinn for signature. Thirty-eight states have already set 18 as the age for prosecution in adult court.

Moreover, Illinois received compelling evidence last week that incarcerating young people doesn’t rehabilitate them. Independent experts told a federal court that Illinois’ juvenile prison system has many inadequacies, including that it operates an education program far below minimally accepted standards, does not meet the basic mental health needs of incarcerated youth and uses solitary confinement too often and for too long, with potentially damaging effects on youngsters who return to their communities.

In the past three years the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ) has brought significant improvements in some conditions and delivery of rehabilitative services to kids held in state prisons. IDJJ has established a new aftercare program to transition youth back to their homes after leaving prison. Over the past seven years, new state programs and policies have reduced the number of youth in state prisons from more than 1,400 to around 900, which is good news for those youth who can be held accountable for their actions at the local level, don’t have to leave home to receive treatment for mental illnesses or addictions and don’t need to have their educations interrupted.

But the experts’ reports, which are part of a class-action lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Illinois, describe shocking conditions that still exist in the state: little schooling, inadequate mental health care even for youth in severe crisis, squalid conditions in the “confinement” units and youth languishing in prison far beyond their release date due to a lack of community-based placements. To its credit, IDJJ allowed the three experts inside and is attempting to resolve the suit without costly litigation. Gov.Quinn and all Illinois legislators and policymakers need to read these reports and pay careful attention to their findings.

A close examination of what’s going on in Illinois could be instructive to other states with youth prisons, because there is considerable evidence that mass incarceration of youngsters in large prison facilities is a fatally flawed concept.

Retired Judge Georgr W. Timberlake says:

The ACLU lawsuit could produce great change, especially if the federal court can demolish whatever bureaucratic barriers have prevented IDJJ from delivering a quality education and from diagnosing and treating mental illnesses that brought so many into prison. However, the best way to ‘fix’ the terrible conditions the reports describe is a dramatic reduction in the number of youth incarcerated. We must keep more youth in their homes, receiving the kind of supervision and services proven to reduce reoffending much more effectively and at a fraction of the cost of sending a youth to prison.

The three experts have these recommendations for Illinois, which would benefit other states too.

1) Cook County fills many state prison beds with 18-21-year-old men awaiting trial on a new adult charge. They are held for months at state expense due to a violation of parole connected to an earlier action as a juvenile. But if they’re going to trial on a more serious adult charge in Cook County, they should be held there, where they have better access to attorneys and where local taxpayers can pay the bill. IDJJ should refuse to accept them and should put the dollars saved into better rehabilitative services. Illinois has helped lower youth prison numbers in 28 counties which agreed to send 25 percent fewer young people to state prison in exchange for financial assistance.

2) The Redeploy Illinois prison-diversion program, which began in 2006, has been a huge success. This year, Gov. Quinn signed legislation tailor-made to ease Cook County into the program, but officials have dragged their feet. Cook County and others that commit large numbers of juveniles should be given a choice of participating in Redeploy Illinois or paying the state the nearly $100,000 annual cost of incarcerating each juvenile.

3) Today, 10 percent of the kids in Illinois prisons have been approved for release, but they remain behind bars because they aren’t welcome home: either because the state places restrictions on where they can live or because they need substance abuse or mental health treatment and none is readily available. Illinois needs to step up the search for approved living arrangements and help create them when none are available.

4) About one half of the youngsters entering Illinois prisons last year were re-incarcerated for violating the terms of their parole. Often, these were “technical violations,” like failing to attend school or obey a curfew. Illinois needs to shorten the length of parole, which can last up to five years for some, and require technical parole violations to be addressed with more effective interventions than re-incarceration.

Judge Timberlake concludes:

The ‘important strides’ Illinois has made in juvenile justice reform should be the first steps in a marathon of wide-reaching reforms. We cannot afford to run in place.


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Nearly 10% of Incarcerated Youth Were Sexually Victimized in 2012

Português: Uma cela moderna em Brecksville Pol...

Brecksville Police Department, Brecksville, Ohio (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An estimated 9.5% of youngsters in state juvenile facilities and state-contract institutions (1,720 kids and teens nationwide) reported one or more incidents of sexual victimization in 2012, according to a recent survey. Facility staff were involved in 1,390 cases (7.7%), while another youth was involved in 450 cases (2.5%).

Georgia, Illinois, Ohio and South Carolina had the highest rate of incarcerated youth sexual victimization (more than 15%), while Massachusetts, New York, Delaware and D.C. had no reported cases. Males (8.2%) were more likely than females (2.8%) reporting sex with facilities staff, and more than 90% of all youngsters reporting sexual misconduct were victimized by female staff.

Nearly 18% of youth sexually assaulted by other young inmates reported being injured in the incident, versus 6% victimized by staff. Gay, lesbian and bisexual youth had a significantly higher rate of victimization by other youths (10.3%) than heterosexuals (1.5%). Force was threatened in 68% of youth-youth incidents, versus 37% in staff-youth cases. The survey was mandated by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PRAE).

According to the survey, authored by Allen Beck, David Cantor and Tim Smith, the “Sexual Victimization in Juvenile Facilities Reported by Youth, 2012, conducted with 8,707 youths between February and September 2012:

Based on comparable state juvenile facilities surveyed in 2008–09 and 2012, the overall rate of sexual victimization dropped from 12.6% to 9.9%. The decline was linked to a drop in staff sexual misconduct with force (from 4.5% of youth in to 3.6%) and a drop in staff sexual misconduct without force (from 6.7%to 5.1%).

Ohio was the worst state, with an estimated one-fifth of juveniles reported being sexually victimized at least once in the previous year. Three of the state’s four juvenile correctional facilities were among the 13 facilities nationwide having the highest rates of assaults. For example, the Circleville facility had the second highest rate of assaults among all the facilities studied (30%). Fully 90% of those assaults involved staff sexual misconduct. Half of that sexual activity was forced or coerced.

According to the Chicago News:

Illinois ranked among the four worst states for reported rates of sexual victimization in juvenile detention facilities. The federal report points to a system failure within the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice that must be addressed at every level, from administration to line staff. Youth must have a safe and reliable way of reporting sexual victimization and getting help.

Among other things, PREA requires states to designate an entity, which is operationally independent from the juvenile justice agency’s chain of command, to receive youths’ reports of sexual victimization to ensure that juveniles can bring complaints without fear of retaliation.

Tennessee has a higher rate (13%) of reported sexual assaults on imprisoned minors than the U.S., and there is good news and bad news regarding different facilities. The John S. Wilder Youth Development Center in Somerville had the highest rate of estimated sexual victimization in 2012, at 19.5%, up from 16.3% in 2010. On the other hand, the Woodland Hills Youth Development Center had one of the highest rates in the county, three years ago, at 26%. But between the two studies, Woodland Hills’ rate dropped to 6.7% in 2012.

The survey results come just two months before the federal government is scheduled to start enforcing new sexual-assault-prevention standards at the its detention facilities. These include providing inmates access to crisis hotlines, training medical examiners to identify abuse and doing audits every three years.

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The Missouri Miracle

Seal of Missouri.

Seal of Missouri. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Robert Winters, of Kaplan University‘s School of Criminal Justice, has a great piece of work posted on Corrections.com in which he gives voice to the idea that it is more expensive to do nothing about our juvenile justice system. As you might imagine we were terrifically pleased to see one of our main arguments being used.

More effective, less expensive: an admittedly counterintuitive mantra until you actually examine the numbers. Then it suddenly becomes clear that this is exactly the case. Prof. Winters explains how things have turned around since the 1980s, when recidivism was high and rehabilitation rare. (Back to the Future – Corrections.com)

What replaced that broken system came to be known as the “Missouri Miracle.” Traditional facilities were replaced by 32 small housing units (with populations typically ranging from 10 to 30) that are not only located across the state so that juvenile offenders can remain close to home, but also bear little resemblance to a prison. They are more like a group home, staffed by highly-trained personnel who use an approach that emphasizes therapy and rehabilitation over punishment. The staff-offender ratio is very low as well.

Though it might seem that a less stringent security environment—these facilities do not even have fences—would be an invitation to escape, that has not been the case in Missouri. On average there are less than 50 per year. The state does operate eight isolation rooms for juvenile offenders and still has a traditional prison for offenders under age 17, but the isolation rooms have been only rarely used and the prison has contained less than five inmates for most years of the new program.

What qualified the “Missouri Miracle” as a miracle? Recidivism into the juvenile program is now under 8%. The rate of adult conviction of former juvenile offenders now hovers between 7% and 8% for a five-year period after concluding the program. New York’s juvenile system, by contrast, has an 89% male recidivism rate. In Illinois it was 50% in 2006-09, up from 33% in 1996-99. Roughly half of Missouri offenders return to school successfully, and another third earn high school diplomas or a GED while in the program. Compared to Missouri’s 91% education rate, the national average is 46%.

It might be reasonable to assume that such commendable results come at a high price, but in fact the opposite is true. New York’s cost is $210,000 per juvenile for a nearly 90% failure rate. The national average is around $100,000. The Missouri Miracle, on the other hands, costs about $50,000 per child annually.

This is no big secret. All you have to do is look at the numbers. In this age of rhetoric, seeing actual facts used to to state the case is a joy to behold. Even better is the fact that Winters points to several other similar programs that have been kicking off around the country.

The District of Columbia started to use the Missouri Model in 2009 with mixed results. The first facility based on it cut its recidivism rate in half. Unfortunately there was also a tragic incident where a middle-school principal was killed by several juveniles who were serving under the new program.

Here in my home state of Louisiana, which has always deserved a horrible reputation when it comes to corrections, we saw the Bridge City facility open in 2007. Again based on the Missouri Model, it serves male youth offenders aged 10 to 20 serving sentences ranging from six to 24 months. Since opening it has achieved a recidivism rates of 10 %.

Other jurisdictions are finally starting to experiment with the Missouri Model, including New Mexico and San Jose, California. We have faith that the model’s success can be replicated in widely divergent areas of the country, and each time it shows gains in another community the evidence becomes more impossible to ignore. This is the sane way to both fix the system and reduce the budget needed to do so at the same time.

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Juvenile Justice in Illinois Gets a Failing Grade

Prison WindowIllinois’ juvenile justice system is failing.  Failing to rehabilitate offenders. Failing to help them return to life in their communities. Failing to provide a clearly spelled out release procedure.  Failing to provide proper case management. The list goes on. These are not my assertions, they are taken from a state commission’s study slated for release next Tuesday.

The proof is in the rate of recidivism. How many youthful offenders return to incarceration for further offenses? More than half, according to the study by the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission. Additionally the report calls the Illinois juvenile justice system ” in many ways, the ‘feeder system’ to the adult criminal justice system and a cycle of crime, victimization and incarceration.”

Ryan Haggerty of The Chicago Tribune brings us the words of the commission’s chairman:

The commission was ordered by law to develop recommendations to help youth offenders successfully transition back into their communities. The commission’s members found a system that is in desperate need of an overhaul, said its chairman, Judge George W. Timberlake, retired chief judge of the 2nd Judicial Circuit.

‘We actually saw a system that doesn’t work so well, if we gauge the worth of the system in increasing public safety, doing so at the least possible cost and improving the outcomes of kids who otherwise might be part of future criminal activity,’ Timberlake said in a phone interview Monday.

John Kelly, a writer for YouthToday, breaks the report’s findings down into four key areas of criticism:

Release Procedures and the Lack Therof – The commission observed 230 Prisoner Review Board (PRB) hearings, the only way to be released in Illinois short of serving a full sentence. Their conclusions were that the  proceedings that were “rushed” and confusing to offenders. Timberlake said that the release process needs to be clearly defined and advised mandated review hearings every six months coupled with the addition of a legal advocate to each facility.

Reentry Practices – The DJJ still uses Department of Corrections standard for adult parole, something at highly at odds with good juvenile reentry practices.

Excessive Parole Revocation – 54% of juveniles who had their parole revoked  were returned to incarceration for a technicality.  The most frequent reasons being curfew violation, truancy or for home disturbances.

‘We are not suggesting future crimes should not lead to re-incarceration,’ Timberlake said, ‘but it was surprising to find that what could be considered normal teen behavior leads to a return to prison.’

Poor and Archaic Case Management – paper-only master files on juveniles are only the beginning. From several of the terms  Timberlake used, “coal-fired computer” and “mainframe that is not susceptible to much upgrade,” leave little doubt as to the currency of their approach. An approach I might add that they share with the Department of Corrections, so it is not only primitive but also geared towards adults not juveniles.

I highly advise Mr. Kelly’s article for further reading as he examines each of these in more detail and also provides some very informative and even handed commentary. [Illinois Probe Finds Rushed, Unmeasured Process for Juvenile Release, Reentry and Parole on YouthToday]

 Image Source: derekskey on Flickr. used under it’s Creative Commons license