Illinois Rethinks Its Juvenile Justice Policies

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In the past nine years, Illinois has cut the number of incarcerated youth 62 percent and shifted support to more community-based resources. The shift comes amid a growing nationwide consensus that juveniles do not benefit from adultlike incarceration. In Illinois, it was reinforced by the 2012 resolution of a federal class action lawsuit against the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice brought by the American Civil Liberties Union Last February, Gov. Bruce Rauner promised to reduce the state’s overall prison population by 25 percent over the next 10 years, reports the Christian Science Monitor.

Fears that reducing the juvenile prison population would lead to spikes in crime have proved unfounded. Police arrested 38,400 juveniles in 2006; they have arrested fewer than one-third of that number so far this year. While the number of homicides has risen dramatically this year – to more than 700 – the number of juveniles charged with murder has remained relatively consistent, with 38 charged in 2006 and 37 in the first 11 months of this year. A package of reforms went into effect this year, including one that keeps young people charged with misdemeanors out of prison. The state’s financial crisis may also be playing a factor in the push for a smaller population. A recent study found that incarcerating one young person in Illinois is 29 times more expensive than enrolling them in Redeploy Illinois, a community-based alternative program run by the state.

 

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