Illinois Pilots Programs to Reduce Massive Juvenile Recidivism Problem

The Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission announced a $1.5 million project to start addressing the fact that more than half of the offenders coming home from their juvenile facilities are ending up in adult prison soon after.

The commission awarded a three-year, $1 million grant to Youth Outreach Services (YOS) to work with 225 offenders coming back to Chicago’s West Side. Another $450,000 will go to Children’s Home and Aid to serve 75 youths in Madison and St. Clair.

The two organizations will be tasked with connecting returning offenders to an array of services including anger management, peer-led social activities, family-focused therapy and substance abuse treatment. The hope is that, if the two ventures are successful, a statewide replication would follow.

The pilot project comes seven months after IJJC’s report finding the recidivism rates of incarcerated juveniles to be “unacceptably high,” according to commission chair, Judge George Timberlake.

Timberlake said in an interview with the Chronicle that the downstate grantee, Children’s Home and Aid, would likely be able to handle all of the area’s returning offenders with 75 slots. YOS will also try and serve every juvenile returning to the West Side, Timberlake said, but also has a separate contract with the state Department of Juvenile Justice to do re-entry work in the case that the number of returnees exceeds 225.

“We’ve driven the admission numbers [into juvenile justice facilities] way down,” said Timberlake, a retired judge from the state’s Second Circuit. The pilot project slots “probably will be right on, so they intend to take everyone.”

It would be a fortuitous time for Illinois to improve the outcomes on the back end of its juvenile justice system, because the number of teens within the jurisdiction of the juvenile system may continue to grow. State legislation recently shielded 17-year-old misdemeanants from the adult system; if that venture goes swimmingly, there will almost certainly be a push to include some 17-year-olds convicted of felonies.

John Kelly is editor-in-chief of the Chronicle of Social Change

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