Illinois decreased its number of incarcerated youth by almost 40 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to a report released this week.
The study, by the National Juvenile Justice Network, found that Illinois had the fifth largest decrease of incarcerated youth in the country during that span.
The director of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, Arthur Bishop, said the report highlights a comprehensive effort by the state.
“We work to prevent youth on the front end from coming in, we work diligently to prepare them to to return to their communities and then we work diligently to keep them in their communities,” Bishop said.
Bishop said what was most essential was that all parts of the government who deal with youth crime worked together to keep kids out of jails and prisons.
The study’s authors and Bishop both pointed to a program called Redeploy Illinois as a major driver of the decrease in the number of incarcerated youth.
Redeploy was created by the legislature in 2004 and provides financial incentives for 28 Illinois counties to find alternatives to incarceration.
The program’s funding is set to double in the next state budget.
Elizabeth Clarke, the head of the Juvenile Justice Initiative, said that expansion is one reason she expects the youth prison population to continue to drop.
She said the national report is encouraging but said Illinois needs to do even more to keep kids out of its jails and prisons.
“Incarceration for juveniles is just a failed public policy and we need to shift our dollars and investment to local community services,” Clarke said.
Finding alternatives to incarceration is better for kids, communities and the state’s budget, Clarke said.
Until now Redeploy Illinois cost the state about $2.5 million per year.
That’s compared to the budget for the entire Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, which is more than $120 million every year.
Clarke called the amount spent on Redeploy a “ridiculously low amount of money.”
The juvenile justice report, called The Comeback States, focused on the nine states that have made the greatest strides in cutting their number of incarcerated youth.
The state with the largest decrease was Connecticut, which cut its total in half.
According to the report, much of Illinois’ success in decreasing its youth prison population this past decade simply made up for a dramatic increase in the number of incarcerated youth in the years before.
Between 1985 and 2000 Illinois had the second largest surge in its number of incarcerated youth in the country.
The number of kids behind bars in Illinois doubled during that 15 year span.
Sarah Bryer, the report’s co-author, said the reversal of that trend in Illinois is “a great example” of the importance of having a mix of policies dedicated to keeping youth out of prison.
“Illinois was very explicit in trying to do better by kids and keeping them out of state-run facilities,” Bryer said.
Bryer called incarceration a “very expensive resource” that states don’t use wisely.
Besides the costs, Bryer said there is good reason to try and keep young people out of prison.
“State facilities are largely ineffective. Kids go into state facilities, they are exposed to violence, they are separated from their families and their communities,” Bryer said. “Once they’re incarcerated it’s very hard for them to get back on track in the community.”
Youth prison director Bishop said the state has cut the number of kids in its prison facilities by almost 60 percent since 2000.