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Report: Too Many IL Kids Detained Pre-Trial During Pandemic

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In 2020, nearly 60 kids younger than age 13 were detained in the Illinois juvenile-justice system. (cookcountyil.gov)
In 2020, nearly 60 kids younger than age 13 were detained in the Illinois juvenile-justice system. (cookcountyil.gov)
 By Lily Bohlke, Public News Service - IL - Producer, Contact
March 3, 2021

CHICAGO - Illinois criminal-justice reform groups are urging legislative action to keep children and teens out of detention before their trials.

More than four times as many Illinois kids were detained pre-trial than after trials in July last year and even during the pandemic, according to a report from the Juvenile Justice Initiative.

Nate Balis, director of the Annie E Casey Foundation's Juvenile Justice Strategy Group, said the number of court cases for kids that end up in detention nationwide has gone down in recent years but pre-trial child detention has gone up, and even more for Black and Brown youths.

"We've done a better job at reducing the number of young people in post-dispositional placement than we have in pretrial detention," he said.

At county detention centers in July 2020, 63% of the young people admitted were Black, 15% identified as Hispanic and 28% were Caucasian. The report noted that profound racial disparities have long existed in Illinois' rate of incarcerating both juveniles and adults.

The report called on lawmakers to change the minimum age for pretrial detention from 10 to 13;
Senate Bill 65 would do that. The study also urges limiting detention only to kids who pose an immediate threat to another individual, providing full transparency and requiring regular reviews of decisions to detain juveniles.

Lisa Jacobs, program manager at Loyola Law School's Center for Criminal Justice, said people interacting with kids pre-trial need to be able to work with families to deal with immediate crises as well as longer-term issues.

"Some things that we can do better just to further reduce the use of detention, particularly pre-trial," she said, "is to focus on those crisis-resolution kind of strategies, and those kinds of approaches that really allow law enforcement to hand off cases for crisis de-escalation."

Advocates also are urging county facilities to stop new juvenile admissions, release as many kids from custody as possible - especially those at high risk for COVID-19 - and suspend fines for court, detention and probation.

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