State commission slams juvenile justice system

December 14, 2011

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A new report is shining light on a part of the juvenile justice system that has never been subject to public review: Parole board hearings.

“An essential measurement of any juvenile 'reentry' system is whether youth returning from incarceration remain safe and successful within their communities," the report finds. "By this fundamental measure, Illinois is failing.”

Those are the first lines from a report that is highly critical of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice. The report is the work of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, a state advisory group.

Kids sent to prison don't go for a set amount of time because the idea is that they'll be released once they're rehabilitated. One of the only ways they can get out is by winning parole. But those hearings are riddled with problems, according to the commission.

Commissioners sat in on 230 review board hearings, which outsiders have typically not been allowed to observe. They say kids who are denied parole are rarely told why. In one instance the hearing officer told a youth to sign a blank form stating that they understood the decision of the board, even though the hearing hadn't started yet and no decision had been reached.

Things like that make it hard for the kids to reform their behavior for the next hearing, and ultimately result in more kids being incarcerated at the cost of $87,000 per year.

Commissioners, including the director of the Department of Juvenile Justice, Arthur Bishop, will be talking about the report Tuesday. Bishop is a member of the commission that is releasing the report that is so critical of his own department.

You can hear WBEZ's Robert Wildeboer discuss the report with the commission's chairman, retired Judge George Timberlake.