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How Illinois Spending on Juvenile Justice Compares to Other States

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For the past few months we’ve been talking about Illinois’ Department of Juvenile Justice as part of our series Inside and Out.

We’ve tracked down kids with warrants out for their arrest, spent the day with a probation officer, examined suicide attempts among incarcerated youth and reported from inside one of Illinois’ eight youth prisons. One thing we haven’t done yet is to compare Illinois with other states to see how our juvenile justice system stacks up.

Illinois spends an average of $233 per day to incarcerate a single youth. That’s more than $85,000 per year per child.

That number is one thing.‚ Turns out--comparing it in an apples to apples way is quite another. We’ve hesitated to measure this number against other states because each state has its own system for dealing with kids in trouble with the law. And the differences between states’ systems can be pretty significant.

Lisa Jacobs, director of Illinois’ Models for Change Initiative, says that Ohio’s system of juvenile justice comes closest to Illinois’.

Both states had slightly more than 1,400 kids in their prisons in 2009. And in both states counties are responsible for short-term detention while the state is responsible for longer-term incarceration.

But Ohio spends $334 per youth per day - $100 a day more than Illinois - to incarcerate its youth.

One major difference between the two states is that Ohio’s Department of Youth Services settled a class action lawsuit in 2008. As part of the settlement, Ohio hired more guards at its six prisons. They’ve also closed two youth prisons in the past two years and will close a third next month.

Amy Swanson, director of Voices for Ohio’s Children, says that it’s a “transformative time” in the state. She said that Ohio’s governor, Ted Strickland, met his wife while they were working in juvenile facilities, and that he’s been very supportive of the changes taking place in Ohio.

Indiana meanwhile spends about $173 per day per kid, which, I’m told, is way more than what they spend on adults in prison.

Washington State spent $258 per day for each of their 1,687 youths in custody in 2009. And Kansas has only 355 kids in its juvenile prisons but spends $239 per kid per day. Missouri is a model for many states because its focuses heavily on rehabilitating youths. In 2005, Missouri’s “Secure Care” cost $156 per child per day while its community-based treatment cost $113 per child per day.

Numbers don’t tell the whole story, by any means.‚ But they’re important to know as Illinois has another go at improving its justice system for young people.

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