Watchdog: A Chicago Program Meant To Help Juveniles May Instead “Retraumatize” Them

Juvenile Intervention and Support Center
The Juvenile Intervention and Support Center opened in 2006 with the goal of diverting kids from the criminal justice system and providing them with services. On Tuesday, Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson released a report questioning the effectiveness of the program that costs the city $5 million per year. Shannon Heffernan / WBEZ
Juvenile Intervention and Support Center
The Juvenile Intervention and Support Center opened in 2006 with the goal of diverting kids from the criminal justice system and providing them with services. On Tuesday, Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson released a report questioning the effectiveness of the program that costs the city $5 million per year. Shannon Heffernan / WBEZ

Watchdog: A Chicago Program Meant To Help Juveniles May Instead “Retraumatize” Them

A Chicago program meant to divert young people from the criminal justice system and provide them with services keeps such poor records that it’s impossible to tell if the program actually works. That’s according to an audit from the Office of the Inspector General on the Juvenile Intervention and Support Center.

“The City cannot determine whether over the past 14 years it has created positive or negative outcomes for over 3,000 youth processed each year, nor calculate the return on its $5 million annual investment in the program,” read a statement from Inspector General Joe Ferguson.

In one case, the audit found that the Chicago Police Department even destroyed youth screening records in violation of the Local Records Act.

Despite the lack of reliable records, the audit raises concerns that the program doesn’t follow the best practices for working with young people accused of crimes and “may actually re-traumatize youth or increase their likelihood of reoffending.”

The original vision for the JISC included connecting kids with services and support. But Ferguson said there is a lack of collaboration between Chicago Police, the Department of Family and Support Services and other agencies that could provide young people with help.

And the police officers that work in the program are not there because of their expertise or desire to work with kids, but because they are at the end stages of their career.

“The entire environment in which all of this occurs is more law enforcement in its nature than it is social services in its nature, which means fundamentally it is not operating in a fashion aligned with the objective of reducing youth recidivism,” said Ferguson.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office said it is taking the concerns outlined by the Inspector General seriously and has already created an advisory group to improve how the city diverts youth from the criminal justice system.

“Our city has a fundamental obligation to ensure Chicago’s most vulnerable youth are connected with high-quality diversion opportunities that will put them on a more productive path for a successful future,” a written statement from the Mayor’s office said.

As WBEZ previously reported, some juvenile justice advocates have found the JISC to be so flawed that they wonder if there isn’t a better way for the city to spend its limited dollars to help kids and keep the city safe.

Ferguson said his office did not undertake the question of whether the JISC should continue to exist, but said “the recommendations that we make based on our findings are so fundamental that really we are at a moment where there should be a wholesale, holistic examination of whether or not this is the way to proceed.”