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Ending Juvenile Detention: Is Stage Set in Illinois?

There was a 5% drop in the number of youth admitted to juvenile detention in Illinois from 2016 to 2017. (Jan H. Anderson/Adobe Stock)
There was a 5% drop in the number of youth admitted to juvenile detention in Illinois from 2016 to 2017. (Jan H. Anderson/Adobe Stock)
September 3, 2019

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — People who support alternatives to detention for kids in trouble say the stage is set to bring lasting reforms to Illinois's juvenile-justice system. A recent report shows about 500 fewer young people were admitted to juvenile detention in Illinois in 2017 than in 2016 - a 5% drop.

The Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission compiled the data, and chair Rick Velasquez said those involved in the system are recognizing the problems associated with detention and its overuse.

"What's critical has been the availability of data through the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission in order to have jurisdictions begin to examine some of their own practices, and help undo the bias behind why we are holding kids,” Velasquez said.

The Juvenile Justice Initiative recently released policy recommendations to reduce the use of juvenile detention in the state. They include requiring a 24-7 review of any decision to detain a child; revising detention standards to comply with national and international best practices; and raising the minimum age for detention to 14 across the state.

The report also revealed detentions for 10- and 11-year-olds fell 35%, and admissions for 12- and 13-year-olds dropped 3%. State Rep. Robyn Gabel, D-Evanston, is a longtime advocate for ending detention of kids under age 13. Her view is that even one day in detention can change the trajectory of a child's life.

"We should really be looking at treatment and reform for the youths that have issues or have committed crimes and figure out how we can improve their lives - make things better, get them treatment - rather than detention,” Gabel said.

In 2018, Cook County passed an ordinance putting an end to detention for kids ages 10, 11, and 12. And Velasquez said more alternatives are needed for young people for whom detention could produce harm - to them or to their community.

"We just have to find out ways to work on that. And the key is making sure you have good community resources to be able to respond to those needs, and that officers on the street have these as options,” Velasquez said. “And when you don't have that, sometimes they see this as the only way to proceed."

The Juvenile Justice Initiative report suggested financial incentives to help counties develop community-based responses, so the state can better intervene when young people come in conflict with the law.

Disclosure: Juvenile Justice Initiative contributes to our fund for reporting on Children's Issues, Criminal Justice, Juvenile Justice, Youth Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL