Is Dept. of Juvenile Justice Letting Grant Money Slip? | WBEZ
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Is Dept. of Juvenile Justice Letting Grant Money Slip?

Juvenile justice experts are meeting in Chicago today to talk about the best ways to help kids who've been incarcerated make a good adjustment when they go back to their communities. The Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice says it's planning to transform the way the system works in Cook County. But, WBEZ has learned the department hasn't filled out the paperwork required to get an already promised $4-million federal grant.

The Department of Juvenile Justice knows it needs to do a better job for kids who are released from state custody. According to the department's own “master plan”:

MASTER PLAN: Juvenile aftercare services in Illinois are in their infancy. No district is under the responsibility of the Department of Juvenile Justice. Only one district focuses entirely on juveniles on aftercare and aftercare staff has caseloads of 55-1, well exceeding the national standards of the American Probation and Parole Association.

The department has plans to change that—at least in Cook County. In October the state's Criminal Justice authority awarded the juvenile justice department more than $4.4 million in stimulus funds to hire more than 30 people responsible for supervising kids and getting them the help they need after incarceration. The hires would reduce the caseload in Cook County to 24 to 1.

Sarah Schriber works on juvenile justice issues with the advocacy group Health and Medicine Policy Research. She says aftercare is important because it gives kids a chance to stay out of the system for good, and she thinks the grant is a step in the right direction.

SCHRIBER: When there was aftercare system in juveniles, which there was in Illinois at one point, recidivism rates were around 20 percent. Since there has been no targeted aftercare system the rate is well over 50 percent.

But so far, the department hasn't claimed the grant money. In a letter dated October 14, the state Criminal Justice Authority let the Department of Juvenile Justice, or DJJ, know it had been awarded the millions.   

DJJ just needed to fill out the paperwork to get things started.  But now, two months after that letter—a Freedom of Information Act request from WBEZ shows the department hasn't submitted the grant documents that would allow the grant process to begin.

CLARKE: DJJ has had a great deal of trouble on the administrative front.

Elizabeth Clarke is the president of the Juvenile Justice Initiative of Illinois, a youth advocacy group.
 
CLARKE: That is certainly one of the criticisms the auditor general made in the evaluation of DJJ last summer. There were about 25 instances of administrative delay, failure to access grant funds, failure to provide appropriate training of staff, failure to hire staff.

One of the findings in the Auditor General's report: in 2007 the department was awarded a $330,000 federal grant to buy new computers to help kids in state institutions with job preparation. The department didn't get the grant done in time—and had to return the funds.

The Auditor General also found that in fiscal years 2007 and 2008 the department didn't spend millions of dollars set aside to hire, resulting in staff shortages at its facilities.

As for this most recent grant, the four million dollars to help kids once they get out, the Department of Juvenile Justice says it's finalizing the grant now—and hopes to submit it this week or next.

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