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More work needed on juvenile justice reform

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Friday, October 6, 2023   

Advocates for juvenile justice reform recently gathered in Chicago to find ways to keep young people out of the criminal justice system.

Herschella Conyers, board chair of the Juvenile Justice Initiative, said part of the work needs to happen in schools. If schools were transformed into welcoming neighborhood activity centers, open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Conyers believes children would see better educational outcomes and stay out of trouble.

"I know that's bold, I know that costs tax dollars," Conyers acknowledged. "But God, aren't we spending tons of money already for the wrong things that have not worked? And the cost of incarcerating a child is not a small cost."

In 2020, Gov. Pritzker announced plans to transform the state's juvenile justice system in four years, by moving incarcerated youth out of adult facilities, increasing wraparound supports and intervention, and boosting financial support for victims. But groups advocating for juvenile justice reform said the work is far from complete.

Joshua Brooks, restorative justice hubs coordinator for the Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice at Adler University, said the work of bringing offenders, victims and community members together to repair harm done is the number one intervention communities want. But young people need to be fully reintegrated into communities, or they just end up back on the streets.

"Restorative justice has been known to reduce recidivism," Brooks noted. "That's true, it does. But also, if a person who exits out the criminal justice system gets a job, and is employed, that reduces recidivism too."

Scott Main, assistant director of the Illinois Juvenile Defender Resource Center, pointed to recent brain studies showing youths do not fully understand the consequences of their actions until age 25. He pointed to states like Vermont, where they are not willing to put juveniles in adult court until they have reached full maturity.

"We should look to Washington D.C. and California that has second-look legislation, looking at sentencing for individuals up to the age of 25," Main urged. "Illinois hasn't done enough, we need to keep pushing forward."

Disclosure: The Juvenile Justice Initiative contributes to our fund for reporting on Children's Issues, Civic Engagement, Criminal Justice, and Juvenile Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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