Report: Too many juveniles go back to prison

From: NorthWest Herald
Dec 25, 2011
By SARAH SUTSCHEK

More than half of young offenders in Illinois’ youth prisons are back within three years of their release, according to a new report.

The system intended to help imprisoned juveniles get back into their communities for more rehabilitation is broken, but not beyond repair, according to the study by the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission.

During a six-month period, 54 percent of the 386 youths whose parole was revoked were sent back to prison for technicalities such as truancy and curfew violations.

Other findings include the fact that youths are systematically deprived of their constitutional rights in decisions regarding parole revocations.

The report recommends that judges preside over parole revocation hearings, rather than prisoner review boards.

Young offenders also typically stay on parole until their 21st birthdays, increasing the likelihood of returning to custody. The report recommends that the length of parole should be limited. Plus, parole officers handle both adults and youth with caseloads averaging 100, but have no special training for dealing with young people. Rarely do they refer young parolees to programs that could help them with jobs, substance abuse or mental health issues.

“You have officers who are overworked and who don’t have adequate training,” said commission chairman George Timberlake, retired chief justice of the 2nd Circuit Court. “It’s easy to say, ‘It’s a violation. I’m writing it up,’ and the kid goes back inside the prison.”

Statewide, there are more than 1,000 young people in custody in eight prisons with an additional 1,600 on parole.

Locally, between seven to 12 kids are sent to juvenile prisons from McHenry County each year, said James J. Edwards, who heads the juvenile division of Court Services. The average number of juveniles in detention centers also is low, hovering around five or six youths a day.

“When you look at a county our size, historically we have a low percentage of kids who ever end up in the Department of Juvenile Justice,” said Phil Dailing, director of Court Services. “We don’t contribute a lot to this problem.”

The burden is on county officials, when appropriate, to find alternatives rather than send young people to prison, Dailing said.

Read the rest here.

Further reading:

The Report of the IL Juvenile Justice Commission (PDF)

Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission: Broken Parole System Traps Young Offenders (Huffington Post, 14 dec 2011)