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Realigning Illinois fiscal priorities in juvenile justice.

Research shows that treating youth in the community is the best medicine for youth crime. According to the Justice Policy Institute's report The Costs of Confinement: Why Good Juvenile Justice Policies Make Good Fiscal Sense, community-based programs increase public safety. The most effective programs at reducing recidivism rates and promoting positive outcomes for youth are administered in the community, outside of the criminal or juvenile justice systems. Some of these programs have reduced recidivism by up to 22 percent.

Illinois is increasingly cited as a model state for shifting limited resources to programs and policies that are most effective at reducing youth crime. A National Juvenile Justice Initiative report published last June (The Real Costs and Benefits of Change: Finding Opportunities for Reform During Difficult Fiscal Times, on the web at cites the Redeploy Illinois program (described below) as one example of a fiscal realignment model that provides local incentives to courts to keep youth out of juvenile prisons while improving public safety--all for fewer taxpayer dollars.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation provided support for longitudinal research on the impact of incarceration on youth crime. As suspected, the research (see Research on Pathways to Desistance at www.modelsforchange. net/publications/239) concludes that low level offending youth are less likely to repeat offend if treated in the community rather than incarcerated. But surprisingly, the research also concludes that community treatment is more effective at reducing repeat offending for violent offenders, a finding that has serious policy implications for states that spend heavily on juvenile corrections.

Illinois is one such state, spending over $100 million annually to incarcerate youth in state prisons but only $3 million to keep youth out of prison through Redeploy Illinois. In fact, Illinois spends twice as much to incarcerate youth as it does to keep them out of incarceration through all prevention and intervention programming. Research suggests our state would be better to flip the funding, and invest twice as much in community programming as in confinement.

Two successful Illinois programs--Redeploy Illinois and the Illinois Juvenile Justice Mental Health Initiative--demonstrate that community-based services work better than incarceration.

Redeploy Illinois

The Redeploy Illinois initiative gives counties money to provide comprehensive services to delinquent youth in their home communities who might otherwise be sent to the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ). Research highlights Redeploy Illinois as a leading state program for reducing juvenile justice spending without compromising public safety. To date, nine Redeploy Illinois programs have served youth in 23 counties.

According to the Justice Policy Institute (JPI), a D.C.-based research center, the biggest states, including Illinois, are "realigning fiscal resources away from ineffective and expensive state institutions, and towards more effective community-based services." They highlight Redeploy Illinois, noting that in the first three years the initial sites diverted 382 youth from commitment in a state juvenile prison, lowering the number of commitments by 51 percent in those sites.

Redeploy Illinois is currently funded to support programming in only part of the state--the four original pilot sites, along with five new sites, all serving 23 counties. The oversight board recommends expansion statewide.

St. Clair County is a particularly successful Redeploy Illinois site. It successfully lowered commitments to state juvenile prison from over 60 per year to an average of 11, based on the use of evidence-based community programs like multi-systemic therapy (MST) that provide individualized services to youth and their families. MST services typically include counseling, educational advocacy, vocational training, transportation, substance abuse treatment, and afterschool programming.

The Redeploy Illinois approach used so successfully in St. Clair County could be employed statewide for a modest increase in funding. In Illinois, nearly 47 percent of youth held in custody are committed for non-violent crimes, and nearly one-third score "low-risk to reoffend" while another one-third score "moderate-risk to reoffend."

Thus, a large pool of youth could benefit from expanding Redeploy Illinois. A relatively small increase in Redeploy funding could have a big impact.

The mental Health Juvenile Justice Initiative

According to a project funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, 66 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system have a diagnosable psychiatric condition. The Mental Health Juvenile Justice (MHJJ) program administered by the Illinois Department of Human Services' Division of Mental Health targets these juvenile offenders.

The program began as a pilot project in four counties in 2000. Based on its initial success, the MHJJ program has since expanded to 34 Illinois counties.

The Division of Mental Health funds 21 local community agencies to employ a specially trained MHJJ liaison to work with the local juvenile courts and juvenile detention centers. MHJJ liaisons are masters-level clinicians who assess each youth for the presence of serious mental illness. The liaison develops a treatment plan outlining needs, strengths, community services, and funding.

The MHJJ program provides help with substance abuse treatment, family therapy, psychiatric services, educational advocacy, job training, psychological assessment, court advocacy, group therapy, individual therapy, recreational therapy, and mentoring. Since the MHJJ program's inception in 2000, more than 12,000 children were referred for screenings, and more than 5,500 of them were identified as having significant mental health issues.

Program evaluations by Dr. John Lyons of Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine show that when youth with mental illnesses receive community treatment, their clinical symptoms improve, school attendance goes up, and recidivism goes down dramatically. In 2006, only 27.6 percent of youth who went through MHJJ were rearrested, compared to a statewide average of 72 percent.

Research shows that shifting scarce resources from expensive and ineffective incarceration to community programming, as exemplified by Redeploy Illinois and the MHJJ initiative, will produce better outcomes for youth in conflict with the law and improve community safety. It is long past time that we fully deploy these alternatives.
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Author:Clarke, Elizabeth E.
Publication:Illinois Bar Journal
Article Type:President's page
Date:Dec 1, 2010
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