Among other changes, Illinois moved away from using incarceration as punishment for minor offenses, required judges to consider other alternatives before sentencing a youth to incarceration, and implemented risk assessments to provide juvenile offenders with customized treatment plans.
Betsy Clarke, founder and president of the Juvenile Justice Initiative, says the progress made so far is highly encouraging. Clarke started the Juvenile Justice Initiative in 2000 after spending a total of 21 years handling juvenile justice cases for the Cook County Public Defender and the Office of the State Appellate Defender. Clarke says she enjoys her work because it “makes a real difference” in the lives of young people who might otherwise end up in adult prison.
“It’s restorative justice at its best,” Clarke said.
Despite the progress, Clarke points to areas of the system that still need work. For example, Illinois is one of four states identified in a recent U.S. Department of Justice report as having high rates of sexual assault in youth prisons. At least 15 percent of youth in juvenile detention centers in Illinois have experienced sexual assault at the hands of staff or other incarcerated youth, the report says.
Clarke says that’s partly due to the “failed model” of using large-scale incarceration instead of community services.
“The more we treat anyone with a juvenile kind of approach – community-based, individualized, restorative justice before you ever go through a court door – the better off we are,” Clarke said.
Illinois Times article
“The Comeback States: Reducing Juvenile Incarceration in the United States” report
U.S. DoJ report on sexual victimization of incarcerated youth
In Re Miller v. Alabama, U.S. Supreme Court (2012) opinion addressing juvenile life without parole