In the 1990s, it became clear that communities were relying far too heavily on incarceration of youth as response to risk-taking and/or illegal behavior, and that this situation was often due to a lack of local alternatives. "Technical" juvenile parole violations5 accounted for 40 percent of commitments to the Juvenile Division of IDOC. In addition, mental health evaluations and "impact incarceration"6 accounted for an additional 30 percent of the juveniles committed to incarceration. These practices had devastating effects on the lives of the incarcerated youth (demonstrated, in part, by overall recidivism rates of at least 50 percent), and the cost to the State was enormous. In addition, as described earlier, counties experienced a fiscal incentive to commit youth to state-funded corrections rather than develop community-based alternatives for which the county would be fiscally responsible.

Juvenile justice reforms swept the nation during and after the 1990s, and research demonstrated success of alternatives to detention in Illinois, particularly evening reporting centers. It was also found that community-based services for delinquent youth can be more effective and less expensive than a sentence to detention. Other research began to document the success of evidence-based programming. However, many counties in Illinois lacked the resources and/or programming to effectively serve delinquent youth locally, resulting in the decision of the courts to send them to IDOC, and later to IDJJ. From 2000 to 2004, IDOC experienced an average of 1,765 new juvenile court admissions per year, with approximately 45 percent of those admissions for a property offense and 30 percent for a court evaluation (i.e., a 30 to 90 day commitment during which time the correctional counselors evaluate a youth's needs). During calendar year 2004 alone, IDOC experienced 1,729 new court admissions, with just under one-half (792) admitted for a property offense and approximately one-third (610) for a court evaluation. Forty-six percent (46%) of the juveniles discharged from IDOC in 2001 returned to a juvenile prison in Illinois within three years. The number of youth discharged from a juvenile prison in Illinois who later became involved with the adult criminal justice system, or a juvenile system in another jurisdiction, is unknown.

Youth and justice system reform advocates saw the need to develop a broad consensus for change. Northwestern University's Children and Family Justice Center held a summit in Chicago in the mid-1990's with speakers from Ohio who presented the concept of RECLAIM Ohio, a fiscal incentive program to reduce reliance on secure confinement, with demonstrated success. RECLAIM Ohio continued to influence juvenile justice reform meetings and conferences in Illinois thereafter, until the Redeploy Illinois legislation was drafted and passed.

Many agencies, organizations and individuals advocated for Redeploy Illinois. The Chicago Council on Urban Affairs conducted public opinion polls in Chicago neighborhoods, and concluded that the general public supported the use of community-based alternatives instead of institutionalizing youth. The Illinois Juvenile Justice Initiative (IJJI) conducted regional public hearings, and arranged for a legislative hearing on the fiscal incentive issue, through which they brought public opinion and evaluation research to the attention of legislators. IJJI also held a summit in Chicago to present the concept of Redeploy Illinois to the advocacy community.

In 2003, IJJI partnered with the John Howard Association for Prison Reform and Chicago Metropolis 2020 to host a series of discussions with key stakeholders regarding changing current fiscal incentives to reduce the use of confinement for juveniles. The stakeholders included: IDOC, the Juvenile Advisory Board to IDOC, judges, county board members, and legislators.

Finally, in 2004 legislation establishing Redeploy Illinois passed the Illinois General Assembly with bi-partisan sponsorship, without controversy and without any significant opposition. The legislation encourages the deinstitutionalization of juvenile offenders by establishing Redeploy sites in counties or groups of counties that develop a continuum of local, community-based sanctions and treatment alternatives for juvenile offenders who would be incarcerated if those local services and sanctions did not exist, and that agree to reduce the number of youth incarcerated by at least 25 percent based on the average number of youth incarcerated for the previous three years. The legislation applies only to youth charged with less serious felonies. The legislation incorporates a number of key principles and best practices in the field of juvenile justice, including Balanced and Restorative Justice (BARJ); treating youth in the least restrictive manner required to preserve public safety; and creation of a continuum of services and sanctions in every community under local responsibility. The legislation also selected counties as the local "convener" of Redeploy Illinois initiatives. The legislation charged the Illinois Department of Human Services with creating and administering the Redeploy Illinois initiative and convening the Redeploy Illinois Oversight Board.

Redeploy Illinois funding gives counties the financial support to provide comprehensive services to delinquent youth in their home communities instead of sending youth to IDJJ. The funds provided to the Redeploy Illinois sites help fill the gaps in the existing continuum of programs and services for delinquent youth, allowing counties to cost effectively serve youth locally and reduce their reliance on IDJJ. The legislation also created benchmarks (25% reduction) with consequences for failure to reduce juvenile commitments. It encouraged the use of evidence-based programs, required evaluation and required an annual report of outcomes to the General Assembly.

In fall 2004, the Legislature appropriated $2 million dollars to support the initial Redeploy Illinois pilot phase. Since that time, the Redeploy Illinois statute (730 ILCS 110/16.1) has been revised in several ways based on the experience of the pilot programs, and on the advice of the Redeploy Illinois Oversight Board. These modifications include:

  • allowing an adjustment in the 25 percent reduction requirement, in certain circumstances (for example, if a county had significantly reduced its youth incarcerations for three years prior to implementing Redeploy Illinois), and
  • allowing the establishment of a special reserve of Redeploy Illinois funds, so that counties with very few IDJJ commitments, for which a 25 percent reduction is not practical, can provide Redeploy Illinois programs and services to individual youth and their families with demonstrated need.