Illinois: A Comeback State

The National Juvenile Justice Network has featured Illinois as a “Comeback State” for its dramatic decrease in juvenile incarceration. The number of youth incarcerated in Illinois peaked in 2000 at 3,074; since that time it has declined by over 35 percent to 1,949 in 2010. Illinois has accomplished this turnaround through evidence-based alternatives to incarceration, programs that divert youth youth from secure custody, facility closings, reduced incarceration for minor offenses, and statewide realignment and reinvestment within the juvenile justice system.

The full report is available here from NJJN.

Illinois Highlights from the Report

The peak. The number of youth confined in public facilities increased from 1,534 in 1985 to 3,074 in 2000, a 100 percent jump.

The reversal. The number of youth confined in public facilities decreased from 3,003 in 2001 to 1,949 in 2010, a 35 percent decline. For all facilities (i.e., public and private), the number of youth decreased from 3,561 in 2001 to 2,217 in 2010, a 38 percent decline.

Current youth incarceration rate. In 2010, 119 youth aged 10-to-16 were confined in juvenile facilities per 100,000 youth aged 10-to-16 in the state’s population. That’s 43 percent below the 2010 U.S. average rate of 210.

Recent Incarceration-Reducing Policies

Since the year 2004, Illinois has adopted five of the six types of incarceration-reducing policies highlighted in this report: 1) evidence-based alternatives to incarceration; 2) policies and program options that divert youth from secure detention; 3) facility closings; 4) elimination or reduction of incarceration for minor offenses; and 5) statewide realignment of and reinvestment within the juvenile justice system.

The milestone moment and cornerstone of Illinois’ leadership in reducing youth incarceration was the establishment of the “Redeploy Illinois” program, which was modeled after Ohio’s “RECLAIM Ohio” program. Redeploy Illinois, which began in 2004, used a phased realignment between state and county funding for juvenile justice to reduce incarceration of low-risk youth and enhance the use of community- based alternatives for those youth.

Prior to these reforms, the Illinois juvenile justice system was hampered by financial incentives for counties to incarcerate low-risk youth, because the state took responsibility for the costs of youth incarceration, despite the increase in recidivism rates that result when low-risk youth are securely confined.

Since counties lacked the resources to develop and implement community-based alternatives, judges placed youth in state secure facilities.

Community-Based Alternatives

  • In 2004, state law established Redeploy Illinois pilot projects to reduce the institutionalization of certain youth by providing a statutory incentive to reach a confinement reduction goal in counties that could provide local, community-based treatment alternatives. The state law restricted youth who committed violent offenses and those charged with certain high-level crimes from this program.
  • In 2009, the state legislature made Redeploy Illinois a permanent state program and expanded it to offer some level of support to all Illinois counties. As a result, about 70 more counties were eligible to participate in the program.
  • 2011 legislation required Illinois judges to ensure that incarceration is the last-resort option by confining youth only if it is the least restrictive appropriate alternative. Secure confinement cannot be selected until judges have reviewed the results of behavioral assessments and the youth’s criminal history, educational background, learning disabilities, and physical, mental and emotional health.

Reduction in the Use of Detention

  • Illinois is one of the statewide sites of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI). One of the key goals of the JDAI is to “eliminate the inappropriate or unnecessary use of secure detention.” In their pursuit of that goal, JDAI sites share a commitment to: collaboration between the major juvenile justice agencies, other governmental entities, and community organizations to ensure effective implementation of reforms; use of accurate data; objective admissions criteria and instruments to replace subjective decision-making in placing children in secure custody; availability of new or enhanced non- secure alternatives to detention to increase the options for arrested youth; and expedited flow of cases through the system to reduce lengths of stay in custody and increase availability of non-secure program slots.
  • Reducing detention in these ways actually increases public safety. In 2009, JDAI sites nationally reported a 7.2 percent decrease in youth failing to appear for their court dates, and 6.1 percent fewer youth committed a new offense while awaiting adjudication compared to the (baseline) year before the sites were established.

Facility Closings

  • As part of the FY 2013 state budget, the youth prisons in Murphysboro and the Illinois Youth Center in Joliet have been closed. The closures also allow the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice to use its budget differently, to shift resources away from under-capacity facilities and instead establish a statewide, community- based aftercare program.

Minor Offenses

  • In 2006, a law was passed to increase the use of preventative intervention options for chronically and habitually truant youth and their families. The action by the legislature was an attempt to avoid confining youth for this status offense and address truancy before it led to more serious delinquent behavior and incarceration.

Realignment and/or Reinvestment

  • Redeploy Illinois legislation offered participating counties state funds for community-based alternatives, provided that the counties agreed to reduce commitments to state juvenile prisons by at least 25 percent compared to their previous 3-year average. This fiscal realignment increased counties’ abilities to address locally the needs of youth and greatly reduced the incentive for counties to let the state handle youth in the system even if incarceration was not the appropriate approach. Further, if the county failed to meet its minimum reduction requirement of 25 percent, the state had a “clawback” mechanism that allowed it to recoup funds based on a formula for each youth committed in excess of the required reduction.
  • The Redeploy initiative led to serious reductions in confinement. Between 2005 and 2010, counties participating in Redeploy Illinois reduced commitments to Illinois prisons by 51 percent (from 1,737 to 854). During that period, the 28 participating counties kept 886 youth away from state prisons, saving the state an estimated $40 million.