Remarks by Jonathan Fanton at the luncheon for the Juvenile Justice Initiative - Models For Change Launch in Illinois
February 2, 2006 | Speech | Juvenile Justice

Good afternoon. 

I am Jonathan Fanton, president of the MacArthur Foundation. I am pleased to welcome you this celebration of change and reform in the Illinois juvenile justice system – the state where the first juvenile court was created in 1899. 

Thank you for joining us. The MacArthur Foundation has selected Illinois as one of four core states in our national initiative to harness and accelerate promising models of juvenile justice reform.  It joins Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Washington.  We call this initiative Models for Change, and it is part of a $100 million investment in juvenile justice.

You are here today because you care about our young people and the effect the juvenile justice system can have on their lives. 

You are here because you have contributed to the progress in Illinois. 

And you are here because we want to work together, pushing farther and faster to make Illinois a model of a system that is rational, fair, and effective.

A model system reflects a few key principles. First and foremost, it must hold young offenders accountable for their actions.  But it must also provide for their rehabilitation and protect them from harm.  It should improve their life chances while it manages the risks that they pose to themselves and to public safety. Finally, and fundamentally, it must be a juvenile justice system, which acknowledges that young people are developmentally different from adults:   more likely to take risks, more susceptible to peer pressure, and less able to look ahead and weigh the consequences of their actions.

The State of Illinois has realized the importance of these principles and the need to reform the way it treats juvenile offenders. The momentum for change is real, and the MacArthur Foundation wants to help.

We all know that the situation in Illinois has changed dramatically.  While the crime rate is at one of its lowest levels in years, the number of people in prison has increased five-fold since 1970. Now, Illinois spends over $1 billion on its massive corrections industry each year. 

A major factor in adult crime is experience with the juvenile justice system.  Over 80 percent of young people who are incarcerated go on to commit crimes as adults.  In Illinois, nearly 60 percent of those released from prison are likely to return within three years.

These young people do not need to be condemned to a life of crime and incarceration. Research MacArthur has supported shows that they can get back on the right track—if the juvenile justice system works the way it should, the way we know that it can. 

Recognizing individual differences, offering non-violent offenders alternatives to incarceration, and providing support services after prison are key elements to an approach grounded in the belief that people can be redeemed. And with that approach there will be fewer crimes, fewer adults in prison, more functional families, and more stable communities. Investing in individuals who are in trouble or at risk ultimately benefits all of us.    

Like other states, Illinois' juvenile justice system is a “system” in name only.  The responsibility for addressing juvenile crime rests in many places: the police; county-run detention centers; state and county courts; prisons and parole programs; local public defenders and county prosecutors; social services and even local schools. 

But there is progress underway. Let me give you some examples:

• The population in the Cook County juvenile detention center has dropped from over 600 to 450.  State prisons now hold fewer than 1600 young people, compared with the 2600 that were projected just a few years ago.   Two people here deserve special recognition: Bart Lubow, of the Casey Foundation and the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, and Mike Rohan, at the Cook County Juvenile Court. 

• Thanks to the leadership of State Representative Collins, Illinois was the first state in the country to modify its automatic transfer laws, which had been sending youth as young as 15 to adult court with no possibility for judicial review of that process, their crimes, or any mitigating factors. 

• The state has launched "Redeploy Illinois," a program encouraging local communities to provide services for young people instead of sending them to prison. Incarceration rates have already been reduced by more than 30 percent. This is a testament to the hard work of Representatives Collins and Curry and Senator Dillard.

• Until recently, long delays and poor quality plagued the Cook County Juvenile Court’s consideration of mental health status.  MacArthur funded the design and restructuring of a pilot program that has become the Cook County Juvenile Court Clinic. It has improved mental health evaluation, promoting faster access to appropriate services.  Julie Biehl has managed that effort from the beginning. Chief Judge Evans, whom you will hear from shortly, is responsible for moving that pilot program into every courtroom.

•  We are all aware that too many African American and Hispanic youth are in the juvenile system.  Thanks to the efforts of Mike Mahoney at the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, more than a dozen jurisdictions in our state have put pilot programs in place to understand why, to address the causes, and to establish clear standards for incarceration or alternative treatment.  The Burns Institute also deserves credit, and we look forward to working with both of them on this important issue. 

• An informal assessment has led the Cook County Public Defender’s Office to acknowledge changes needed in the legal system.  To serve young defendants better, juvenile defense attorneys are getting the specialized training the need.  As CEO and Chief Attorney, Ed Burnette is responsible for this significant effort.

• Finally, and most significantly, late last year, Illinois created a separate Department of Juvenile Justice. Beginning operations on July 1, the department will emphasize a philosophy of treatment and rehabilitation instead of relying on large and impersonal institutions.  Deanne Benos is the Deputy Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections and championed this pathbreaking change. She was joined by Chicago Metropolis 2020, and we are pleased that Paula Wolff is with us.

There are a few others I would like to recognize:
• Barbara Flynn Currie -- the majority leader in the House, who has brilliantly managed the passage of these landmark pieces of legislation;

• Judge Sophia Hall -- for her vital support of Balanced and Restorative Justice; and

• Judge George Timberlake, a statewide leader on juvenile justice and Redeploy Illinois.  

Virtually everyone in this room deserves mention, but lunch awaits. So let me simply thank you all. This positive momentum makes Illinois the right choice for MacArthur's Models for Change Initiative.  We want to help harness and accelerate this progress, to help position Illinois as a bellwether, a place other states will look to for advice and inspiration. 

We recognize that that there is no single model or path.  Each state in our initiative is working on the issues that are most important to for it.

But with an investment of $7.5 million dollars over five years, MacArthur hopes to see significant progress in Illinois on several key indicators: 
• reducing racial disparities;
• further reducing transfer and waiver to adult court;
• increasing participation in education, rehabilitation, and treatment programs;
• increasing the use of alternatives to incarceration; and
• reducing recidivism.
These are the vital signs of a healthy, effective system. We want to work with you to meet these ambitious goals.


I would like to close with a quote from Abraham Lincoln that speaks to our collective responsibility and opportunity:

“A child is a person who is going to carry on what you have started.  He is going to sit where you are sitting, and when you are gone, attend to those things that you think are important. You may adopt all the policies you please, but how they are carried out depends on him.  He will assume control of your cities, states and nations.  He is going to move in and take over your churches, schools, universities and businesses… [T]he fate of humanity is in his hands.”

Thank you all for joining us today to celebrate the progress so far and to consider the challenges ahead. This event has brought together academic institutions and non-governmental organizations, city and state agencies, law enforcement, the judiciary, and private foundations. Seeing you here makes me optimistic about this partnership that will take Illinois to the next level of reform.

Judge Evans talked about those who believe in the necessity of retribution. Those of us joined here today believe in the power of redemption. Working together, we can create a juvenile justice system that is worthy of our highest aspirations.

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