MacArthur announced that it has selected Illinois as one of four states to participate in its national initiative to accelerate promising models for juvenile justice system reform. MacArthur will award up to $7.5 million in grants over five years to build upon juvenile justice reform efforts underway across the state.
After a competitive selection process, Illinois was chosen to join Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Washington in the initiative because of its strong juvenile justice leadership, potential for collaboration, ongoing reform efforts, and readiness for change.
“The State of Illinois recognizes that young people are developmentally different than adults and understands the need to reform the way it treats juvenile offenders,” said Jonathan Fanton, President of the MacArthur Foundation. “The momentum for change in Illinois is real, and the MacArthur Foundation wants to help.”
The Models for Change initiative is grounded in a fundamental set of principles that are shared by model juvenile justice systems. Model systems are rational, effective and recognize the developmental differences between adolescents and adults. These systems hold young offenders accountable for their actions, provide for their rehabilitation, protect them from harm, increase their life chances and manage the risk they pose to themselves and to public safety. The Foundation recognizes that there is no single model or pathway for reform. Successful and replicable system-wide change can only be achieved through a collection of approaches and interventions.
The Loyola University of Chicago School of Law’s Civitas ChildLaw Center will coordinate the work in Illinois. Grants of up to $1.5 million per year for the next five years will go to state and local agencies, nonprofit organizations and others engaged in three areas of reform: juvenile court jurisdiction, community-based alternatives to secure confinement, and disproportionate minority contact with the juvenile justice system.
Juvenile Court Jurisdiction
While Illinois is the birthplace of juvenile justice, the boundaries of authority of the state’s juvenile courts have become blurred as these courts are increasingly asked to step in where schools, communities, and families once exercised responsibility. This trend has continued despite the limited resources and capabilities of the juvenile justice system. Efforts underway through Models for Change seek to ensure the individualized and developmentally appropriate handling of young people accused of crime.
Community-Based Alternatives to Secure Confinement
Recognizing the value of community-based alternatives to secure confinement, Redeploy Illinois, a state program, has provided fiscal incentives to encourage counties to provide services to nonviolent juvenile offenders at the local level rather than through the state correctional system. In Cook County, great strides have been made in reforming the juvenile justice system, but challenges still remain. Juvenile crime in Cook County is down and fewer children are incarcerated due to the creative use of alternatives to juvenile detention and a new juvenile court clinic that provides increased resources for individualized decision making. Models for Change will build upon this success by raising awareness about funding issues, educating those in the system about alternatives to confinement, and linking juvenile justice decision makers with service providers and community groups to expand alternative services.
Disproportionate Minority Contact with the Juvenile Justice System
Minorities are overrepresented in the Illinois juvenile justice system and more likely than their white counterparts to be transferred to the adult system. Although African-American youth make up only 19 percent of the state’s 10 to 16 year-olds, they represent over half of those who pass through detention centers. Disproportionate minority contact presents a difficult set of issues. The coinciding lack of racially and ethnically detailed juvenile arrest, referral, and case-processing information compounds the problem. Models for Change seeks to reduce and eliminate racial disparities in the juvenile justice system by supporting programs that focus on enhancing data collection and using improved data to raise public awareness and motivate change.
Illinois is among a handful of states undertaking systemic reform of its juvenile correctional system. Last fall, the Illinois Legislature created a new Department of Juvenile Justice, to separate juvenile corrections from the adult system and revamp juvenile correctional centers into rehabilitation and treatment centers. Programs and research conducted by Models for Change grantees in Illinois helped lead to the recent enactment of legislation that eliminated the automatic transfer of 15- and 16-year olds accused of drug offenses into the adult criminal justice system in the state. The new law, signed by Governor Rod Blagojevich, gives judges more discretion over youth offenders transferred to adult courts for drug crimes. As a result, juvenile drug offenders can only be transferred into the adult system if a juvenile court judge finds by clear and convincing evidence that treatment in the juvenile system will no longer be of benefit.