Big plans do not always happen. Such is the case with Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposal to merge the agency responsible for youth prisons (Department of Juvenile Justice) with the agency responsible for foster care (Department of Children and Family Services). Quinn proposed this in March of last year, and kept pushing it publicly through that July. But now - a year later - the merger is “on hold,” as DJJ Director Arthur Bishop puts it.
We ran a story on this today on WBEZ. For more information, check out our series on the juvenile justice system, Inside and Out. Below is a timeline of events related to the youth prison system since its creation five years ago.
Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice
November 17, 2005: Gov. Rod Blagojevich signs into law SB 92, legislation separating the juvenile prison system from the Department of Corrections.
July 1, 2006: The new Department of Juvenile Justice is born, but many support services for the agency, including parole supervision, remained under the adult system.
September 1, 2009: A youth incarcerated at the facility in St. Charles commits suicide. The facility did not have “safety beds” that could help prevent suicides. (Almost two years later, a report from the John Howard Association found that cells doubling as suicide watch cells still lacked these beds.)
September 8, 2009: The state’s auditor general issues a scathing report on the Department of Juvenile Justice. It criticized the agency for taking years to write job descriptions, and for taking so long to purchase computers for incarcerated youth that a federal grant expired.
March 2, 2010: Lawmakers in the Legislative Audit Commission quiz the department’s director, Kurt Friedenauer, about its high recidivism rate and lack of separation from the adult prison system.
March 10, 2010: Gov. Pat Quinn’s office releases budget documents that show his intention to merge the Department of Juvenile Justice with the much larger Department of Children and Family Services, which handles foster care.
March 23, 2010: AFSCME, a politically powerful union representing many employees in the department, comes out against the merger proposal during a legislative hearing.
March 26, 2010: More than two dozen state lawmakers send Quinn a letter, asking him to hold off on issuing an executive order merging the two departments. “More time is needed” to examine the proposal, they write.
April 1, 2010: Quinn signs an executive order directing his staff to work toward merging the departments, and to craft legislation making it official. This is a step back from his administration’s previous position that lawmaker approval was unnecessary.
July 14, 2010: Friedenauer resigns, effective at the end of the month.
July 16, 2010: Quinn names Arthur Bishop as acting head of the youth prison system, saying he will lead the department as it merges with DCFS. The governor says there is no deadline for the merger, but says it will happen “with dispatch“ and “certainly by year’s end.”
July 28, 2010: At a hearing, lawmakers seem skeptical about the merger plan, and whether it is more than simply a bureaucratic reshuffling.
July 29, 2010: A report from the nonprofit MacArthur Foundation finds that staffing levels at the youth prisons are too low, and employees not properly trained, to treat mental health issues. A report author says more than 70-percent of the youth in the system have mental health needs.
August 1, 2010: Bishop takes over the department.
January 1, 2011: Legislation takes effect that seeks to separate some of the existing links between the Department of Corrections and the Department of Juvenile Justice. It directs the administration to – “where possible” – share administrative services “with child-serving agencies,” such as DCFS.
February 2011: The first class of “aftercare specialists” begin training. The new position is basically a youth-focused parole officer. Previously, all parole monitoring was performed by officers employed by the adult Department of Corrections. Despite higher targets, only five “aftercare specialists” keep the job. A second training class of “aftercare specialists” was set to start in May, but was delayed until August.
July 12, 2011: Bishop says the merger idea has been “put on hold.” He said that after planning for the merger began, “we found that the collaborative relationships with other state agencies and other partners allowed us to accomplish a number of the things that we’ve accomplished thus far, and so the focus is on the youth and the rehabilitation of the youth as opposed to what address DJJ sits in.”