In Chicago, a juvenile delinquent who stands before a judge may be assigned to drug treatment, electronic monitoring, intensive probation, an evening reporting center or as a last resort, to a youth prison, says the Chicago Tribune. In Hardin County in southeastern Illinois, a teen may end up on probation with few support services or in a youth prison, because of a lack of alternatives. “It’s a big, ugly secret,” said George Timberlake, chief judge of the 2nd Judicial Circuit in southeastern Illinois. “Kids go to the Department of Corrections who shouldn’t be there.” Illinois is taking an introspective look at its juvenile justice system. Law-enforcement officials, union members, and some state legislators have fought to keep open a youth prison in St. Charles. At the same time, some justice officials and watchdog groups are advocating for fewer youths to be locked up, fewer prisons to hold them and new programs to stem a high rate of habitual crime.
The state is getting ready to roll out Redeploy Illinois, an initiative that aims to reverse a financial incentive for counties to send juveniles to state corrections facilities, where the state pays for their incarceration. Pilot programs are to be up and running by the end of the year. Under the program, counties that can show they are sending fewer youths to prison will be eligible for money that would have been spent on incarceration. The money is to be used to develop mental health programs, alternative supervision, and other programming that can keep non-violent juveniles from breaking the law again. Rural counties are likely to benefit most but supporters say any county can benefit by the focus on creating community diversion programs.