History and Impact

Click here for a Video documenting JJI advocacy and successes over the past two decades.

 Reducing confinement through dialogue, education and advocacy.

The Juvenile Justice Initiative was launched in 2000 as a collaborative of the Woods Fund of Chicago along with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, during the tenure of President Barack Obama on the Woods Fund Board. JJI is a non-profit, non-partisan, inclusive statewide advocacy organization that establishes broad-based collaborations to achieve concrete improvements and lasting changes for youth in the justice system, consistent with the JJI mission statement – to transform the juvenile justice system in Illinois by reducing reliance on confinement, enhancing fairness for all youth, and developing a comprehensive continuum of community-based resources throughout the state. JJI’s statewide approach to systemic reform for youth in the justice system begins with research and analysis, following a circular path linking policy development, policy education, network and coalition building, and policy evaluation and implementation assistance.

The Juvenile Justice Initiative has successfully advocated for numerous reforms in Illinois that have positively impacted children in conflict with the law.

Jurisdictional Reform

  • Automatic transfer reform. Starting 1/1/16 eliminated automatic transfer for children age 15 and under and expanded discretion of juvenile court judges to make transfer decisions for 16-17 year olds except for those charged with first degree murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault and aggravated battery with a firearm. Public Act 99-0258  (Nekritz/Raoul)
  • Raised the Age of juvenile court to bring seventeen year olds charged with misdemeanors back to juvenile court in 2010.  In 2013, JJI raised the age of juvenile court to bring seven teen year olds charged with felonies back to juvenile court. As of January 1, 2014, 17-year-olds are tried in the juvenile court system instead of the adult system.
  • Juvenile Drug Transfer Reform. Beginning in 1985, Illinois’ drug transfer law required 15- and 16-year-olds charged with drug offenses within 1,000 feet of a school or public housing to be tried in adult court. Numerous studies of the law found that automatic transfers had little deterrent effect and many unintended consequences, and that minority youth were disproportionately affected, to the extent that some called the law “the most racially biased drug transfer law in the nation.” In 2005, JJI advocacy led to legislation to roll back some of the provisions of the drug transfer law, eliminating about 225 automatic drug transfers to the adult court each year. For more information on juvenile drug transfer reform in Illinois, click here to read the Juvenile Justice Initiative’s report on the first two years of drug transfer reform in Illinois.

Reducing Confinement

  • Ended misdemeanor commitments to Dept. of Juvenile Justice – As of 1/1/16 children cannot be committed to DJJ for misdemeanors.  In addition, children’s aftercare term must be the same as a parole term for adults for same offense.  This law also has other provisions that will help “right-size” the DJJ population. Public Act 99-0268 (Nekritz/Raoul)
  • The creation and expansion of Redeploy Illinois. Redeploy Illinois is a state program that offers financial incentives to counties to provide community-based services to youth in the juvenile justice system, as an alternative to incarceration in the state juvenile correctional facilities. Services provided to youth may include case management, court advocacy, education assistance, counseling and crisis intervention. Redeploy began in 2005 as a pilot project in four sites serving 15 counties. Today, Redeploy Illinois operates in over 40 counties. Redeploy sites have reduced the number of youth committed to state correctional facilities by 54% over the life of the program saving Illinois taxpayers nearly $11.7 million in FY12, according to the latest annual report. For more information on Redeploy Illinois, click
  • Juvenile sentencing reform. JJI successfully promoted statutory sentencing reform, effective in January, 2012, to clarify that youth cannot be sent to a state youth prison unless the court has made all reasonable efforts to keep the youth at home and ensures that commitment is the least restrictive alternative available.

Detention Reform

  • Detention Age –  As of 1/1/16 children ages 10-12 cannot be placed in detention unless there is a determination that no placement is available with a community-based youth service provider. This law added one step to an already existing detention screening process to help keep young children out of detention.  Public Act 99-0254 (Gabel/Steans)
  • Early appointment of counsel for juveniles who are in detention. State law requires access to counsel for children at every stage of juvenile court proceedings, including detention hearings. Youth under the age of 17 may not waive their right to counsel.
  • Expungement reform. Eliminated state reporting of individual juvenile arrest records to federal authorities.

Conditions Reform

  • The creation of a new Department of Juvenile Justice to shift the youth facility culture from punishment to treatment. In 2006, Illinois separated the Department of Juvenile Justice from the adult Department of Corrections, with the intent of focusing more attention in the youth system on rehabilitation and lowering recidivism.