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Report: Too Many Illinois Kids Looking At Life Through Prison Bars

June 12, 2008

Springfield, IL – More than 2,000 Illinois kids are behind bars on any given day, according to the new Kids Count Data Book released today. The report says there's a need for juvenile justice reform nationwide because too many kids are being locked up for non-violent crimes.

Betsy Clark with the Juvenile Justice Initiative agrees. She says not only does juvenile jail time increase the likelihood that those kids will bounce in and out of prison their whole life, it costs taxpayers a lot of money.

"It's very expensive to lock kids up. In Illinois, state juvenile youth facilities run anywhere from $70,000 to $90,000 a year per bed."

In contrast, community-based services such as mental health care and behavior training cost as little as $4,000 a year, Clark says. Illinois is home to several pilot projects aimed at keeping children out of the adult court system. They have helped reduce the overall number of kids in correctional facilities, although almost 60 percent are still locked up for non-violent crimes.

The Kids Count report also tracks other realities of life for Illinois kids. Voices for Illinois Children President Jerry Stermer emphasizes the good news, which is that fewer teens are dropping out of school, and the child and teen birth rate has dropped. But he is concerned that the number of children growing up poor has increased.

"Every child in Illinois should have a great opportunity to do well, and growing up in poverty today gets in the way of real opportunities for children."

The full report is available online at

Deborah Smith/Kevin Clay, Public News Service - IL