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Report: Incentives Needed for Community-Based Treatment

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Research shows young people don't think the same way adults do, even after they turn 18. (V. Carter)
Research shows young people don't think the same way adults do, even after they turn 18. (V. Carter)
 By Veronica Carter, Public News Service - IL, Contact
April 26, 2018

EVANSTON, Ill. – A new report called "Detention of Juveniles in Illinois" highlights the need for local communities to be given financial incentives to keep young people from being locked up.

In the 1990s, 12 Illinois counties built new, or expanded existing detention centers and the state provided funding for staff salaries, but no money to develop alternative programs.

George Timberlake, chair of the Juvenile Justice Commission, says community-based programs such as Redeploy Illinois are examples of how the use of incarceration after trial can be reduced. The report finds the state needs to shift fiscal incentives.

"And also to take a look deep inside detention centers to determine what their practices are, because ultimately we know that detention of any length of time has a negative effect upon juveniles," says Timberlake.

Timberlake says Illinois has taken some strides toward treatment rather than incarceration, and key has been the creation of juvenile-justice commissions.

Nate Balis, director of the Juvenile Justice Strategy Group at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, says it's important the focus be on what can be done to help localities keep young people thriving in their communities.

"Detention should be used rarely, only for young people who pose an immediate threat to public safety or who are a threat to not appear in court," says Balis.

Sixteen counties in Illinois have a detention center, and Betsy Clark, president of the Juvenile Justice Initiative, says there is a lot of disparity across the state about how detention is used.

"All the research shows that there's great harm that comes from even a night in detention,” says Clark. “It lowers the high school graduation rates, it results in more psychiatric disorders, and it also leads to higher repeat offending levels, so it's just a failed policy."

The report recommends that juvenile judges and law enforcement exhaust all less restrictive alternatives before using detention, the minimum age of detention be raised to 13, and that steps be taken to ensure all young people are treated equally despite economic, educational, racial and geographic disparities.

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