Commission recommends removing juvenile offenders from sex registries, bolstering treatment

Commission recommends shifting funding for juvenile-offender treatment to communities, by John O’Connor (AP)

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SPRINGFIELD, Illinois — Providing individualized treatment for juvenile sex offenders while keeping them in their homes might not cost additional money, but could require shifting of existing expenditures, a commission reported Tuesday.

The Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, assigned to study laws and remedies for juvenile sex crimes, recommended that courts, probation offices and community youth services be “equipped” with standardized methods for evaluating the risks posed by young offenders. The commission also called for adopting intensive treatment programs that keep juveniles with their families and out of incarceration.

Those approaches are not available statewide, said Lisa Jacobs, vice chairwoman of the commission and program manager for the Models for Change juvenile justice initiative.

“The good news is we do have a strong network of youth services providers across the state who could be strengthened,” Jacobs said, “and who could work with the kind of clinicians who have this strong expertise in working with victims and young offenders.”

For that, new money might not be required but new priorities in how it’s spent could be needed, Jacobs told reporters in a conference call Tuesday. The report, delivered to the governor and members of the General Assembly who ordered it in 2012, points out that it costs as much as $100,000 a year to incarcerate a juvenile offender.

The commission strongly recommended abandoning the practice of requiring juveniles to register as sex offenders, which can severely restricts their life choices for at least 10 years and as long as the rest of their lives. Illinois is one of only 20 states that require registration regardless of the risk of re-offending, and the commission’s research shows very few juveniles ever commit a sex crime again.

“There is no persuasive evidence that subjecting youth to registries improves public safety or reduces the risk of future offending,” said commission chairman George Timberlake, a retired chief circuit judge from southern Illinois. “The research simply does not indicate that registries repair harm to victims.”

In fact, the victim can be harmed by registries, too, the commission said. Because the victim is often a family member, he or she loses confidentiality and often the chance to resume familial relations with the offender regardless of the offender’s treatment progress, the group said.

In Illinois, every juvenile convicted of a sex crime must register, and 70 percent of the 2,553 currently registered in the state must do so for life, the report said.

There were 232 juveniles arrested for sex crimes in Illinois in 2010, down from 434 in 2004. More than half of juvenile sex offenders in the state are younger than 14.

The report said only Illinois and eight other states that also register juvenile offenders include even the youngest on their lists.