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Federal money to help Illinois change troubling youth prison statistic

The Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission looks to a federal grant to cut recidivism rates among kids coming out of the state’s youth prisons.

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Illinois Governor Pat Quinn’s Juvenile Justice Commission says 50 to 60 percent of the kids released from youth prisons end up going back within three years. It’s a troubling statistic, but the state is now hoping to use federal money to change it.

Over the last couple of years, the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission has been taking a long, hard look at the state’s juvenile justice system.

Commission member Rick Velasquez says they found that traditional probation officers weren’t really helping the kids succeed: They were just busting them when they didn’t.

“The data was just overwhelming, that we had all these kids that were re-entering the system for some kind of technical violations — not necessarily for committing another crime,” says Velasquez.

Velasquez says the commission has recieved a $1.5 million federal grant to help kids coming out of prison. About $1 million will be used to hire two people at Youth Outreach Services, where Velasquez is the Executive Director.

The two employees will work for three years in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood. The goal is to help about 80 kids each year who return to that area from the youth prisons. The workers will connect kids with services and also attempt to organize family and community members to help the kids succeed. Keeping the kids out of prison could save the state a significant amount of cash, and the program could become a model for the state.

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