Illinois is one of a number of states rethinking how it pursues juvenile justice to make sure kids who’ve committed a crime once don’t end up in a juvenile facility again, NPR reports. Nationally, there were more than 70,000 juvenile in residential placement facilities in 2010, say Census Bureau data. Illinois had 2,200 that year. A damning report from the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission called the state youth prison system an expensive failure. Its study showed that “well over 50 percent of youth” leaving the state’s facilities will go back to juvenile facilities — and others will head to adult corrections system.
Some of the juveniles in Illinois’ system committed serious offenses, the report shows. But many others are there for lesser crimes and, officials say, would be better served in treatment or educational programs. George Timberlake, a retired judge and the report commission’s chairman, says the group observed more than 250 prisoner review board hearings and analyzed the files of about 400 young people whose parole was revoked. He says many juveniles who ended up back in custody didn’t commit new crimes, but instead were found guilty of technical violations of a parole order, such as skipping school and staying out late. Arthur Bishop, director of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Department, has been on the job for less than two years. He began his career as a caseworker in the state’s child welfare agency. He says his team is in place to change the way kids in the system are treated. It’s pretty simple, Bishop says: Treat kids who commit crimes more like kids, and less like adults.