A. APPLICABLE LEGAL PROVISIONS

In order to explain the findings and recommendations in this report, it is necessary to first outline the current law and policy which governs how youth are committed to DJJ custody and how they are prepared for and considered for release from custody.

Legal Provisions Relating to Indeterminate Sentencing

  • Juvenile courts in Illinois commit youth to the Department of Juvenile Justice for an indeterminate period, as opposed to a finite sentence determined at the time of commitment.F032
  • Once a youth is incarcerated, there are two ways to for a youth to be released:
    • to "age out" of the juvenile justice system at age 21; or
    • to be released by the Prisoner Review Board based on its subjective determination that the youth is no longer in need of further institutional programs and that parole is in the best interest of the youth and community.F033
  • The only limitation upon a juvenile indeterminate sentence is the maximum adult term of imprisonment for the committing offense.
    • If the maximum adult term of imprisonment does not expire until after a youth turns 21, the youth is transferred to the Adult Division of the Department of Corrections.F034
    • If the youth turns 21 on parole but the maximum adult term has not yet expired, parole supervision may also be transferred to the Adult Division of the Department of Corrections.F035
  • The determination of the specific length of a youth's sentence begins within 10 days of the youth's incarceration when the Department of Juvenile Justice assigns each youth an Administrative Review Date ("ARD").
    • The ARD is based largely on the youth's committing offense and offense history.F036
    • The ARD acts as a guidepost for the Department of Juvenile Justice in determining when to present a youth to the Prisoner Review Board for a parole hearing.

Legal Provisions Relating to Preparation for Release

  • The Department of Juvenile Justice is required to provide assistance to a youth in obtaining information and records helpful to the youth for his or her parole hearing.F037
  • The Department of Juvenile Justice has "access [to] vital records of juveniles for the purposes of providing necessary documentation for transitional services such as obtaining identification, educational enrollment, employment, and housing.F038
  • In conjunction with the youth, clinical staff is required to prepare a parole plan prior to a youth's release, including "where and with whom he will live, location in terms of employment or school attendance and family relationships and obligations to be assumed on release."F039

Legal Provisions Relating to the Prisoner Review Board

  • The Prisoner Review Board is an independent 15-person body appointed by the governor.
  • Six Prisoner Review Board members are required to have at least three years of "experience in the field of juvenile matters."F040

Legal Provisions Relating to Parole Hearings Conducted by the Prisoner Review Board

  • The Prisoner Review Board makes release decisions for both incarcerated adults and incarcerated juveniles.F041
  • In making a release determination, the PRB must consult documentary evidence, including:
    • the youth's master file;
    • the report by the IYC facility;
    • material submitted by the youth; and
    • medical or psychological reports, if requested by the PRB.F042
  • Release decisions are "subjective determinations based on available relevant evidence"F043 and made in the best interest of the youth and community,F044 as evidenced by at least 13 different factors.F045
  • Decisions are to be made by a panel of three or more members, with "at least a majority of members experienced in juvenile matters."F046
  • The PRB must render a decision within a reasonable time after the hearing. The PRB must state the basis of the decision in written notice to the youth.F047

Legal Provisions Relating to Alternative Mechanisms for Release Consideration

  • By law, in addition to being considered for release at parole hearing:
    • all youth are immediately eligible for parole once they are incarcerated;F048 and
    • juveniles must be considered for parole 30 days before the expiration of their first year of commitment at an Annual Review hearing, and every subsequent year that they are committed.F049

B. OBSERVATIONS AND FINDINGS REGARDING CURRENT RELEASE PRACTICES

RELEASE IS IMPORTANT

Decisions about when a youth will be released from DJJ begin to be made as soon as a judge commits a youth to the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice and are a critical first component of effective youth reentry and aftercare. Successful youth outcomes depend upon three key aspects of release: release timing, release processes, and release conditions.

Timing. Illinois' indeterminate sentencing regime, a legacy of the juvenile justice system's rehabilitation principle, requires that the length of incarceration depend upon an individual youth's unique needs, risks, and strengths. Research shows that juvenile incarceration itself does little to improve behavior or decrease recidivism; in fact, lengthy stays in DJJ can negatively impact public safety.F050 DJJ must therefore adequately assess and treat youth on an individual basis while decreasing length of stay to the minimum necessary for successful release and public safety, recognizing that community-based services should be used in lieu of continued incarceration wherever possible.

Process. Quality release decision procedures not only promote fundamental fairness, but are critical to youth success at reentry. Fair, legitimate decision-making processes increase youth compliance with institutional rules and release conditions, while poorly-explained and seemingly arbitrary processes undermine compliance.F051 Decisions lacking transparency and consistency also thwart oversight of the agency preparing youth for reentry (e.g. DJJ) and hinder internal quality control of the body of hearing officers (e.g. PRB).

Conditions. Terms of release can enhance or obstruct youth success in the community. The most beneficial conditions are narrowly tailored to an individual youth's risks, needs, strengths and goals.F052 Excessive or unrealistic terms, or those which fail to address a youth's risks for reoffending, place youth on a trajectory toward reincarceration.

THE CURRENT RELEASE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS IS INCONSISTENT WITH ILLINOIS' INDETERMINATE, REHABILITATIVE JUVENILE JUSTICE LAWS

Release from Incarceration is Largely Based on Commitment Offense

Determinate sentencing systems base the length of incarceration on an individual's commitment offense. Conversely, indeterminate systems base release on a determination of successful rehabilitation. The Illinois General Assembly has mandated an indeterminate, rehabilitative juvenile justice system to "equip juvenile offenders with competencies to live responsibly and productively."F053 Illinois juvenile court judges therefore commit youth to indeterminate, rehabilitation-dependent sentences.

Despite the clear legislative and judicial emphasis on indeterminate sentencing for juveniles, DJJ issues a formulaic Administrative Review Date ("ARD") within the first 10 days of incarceration, based almost exclusively on the youth's commitment offense. The ARD serves as the primary guidepost for DJJ to determine when a youth appears before the Prisoner Review Board for a parole hearing. The formula for setting the ARD is neither evidence-based nor related to public safety factors. The ARD is also static, seldom adjusted to reflect treatment progress.

The precise timing of the youth's presentation to the PRB for release remains within the discretion of DJJ. While negative behaviors typically result in an extended stay in a DJJ facility, positive behaviors do not appear to place a youth on an accelerated path for release. Disciplinary tickets received by a youth while incarcerated often result in a delayed presentation to the Prisoner Review Board.F054 Factors outside a youth's control, such as the inability to find or obtain parole approval for a "host site," can also delay presentation to the PRB. Currently, 32 percent of youth incarcerated in the Department of Juvenile Justice are there past their ARD.F055

Although the Department of Juvenile Justice conducts some clinical assessments when a youth is initially incarcerated,F056 programming and treatment progress are not typically used to assess a youth's release readiness.F057 DJJ's release practices are therefore inconsistent with Illinois' indeterminate sentencing laws, which presume that release recommendations will be based on whether youth are equipped for a sustained and successful return to the community.

DJJ Fails to Provide the Treatment and Programming Necessary for a Legitimate Rehabilitative Juvenile Justice System

Indeterminate sentencing systems presuppose timely rehabilitation, which requires substantive in-facility treatment and programs to address youth risks and needs.F058 However, the Commission found that the Department of Juvenile Justice fails to identify youth needs and does not match identified needs with the services provided to the youth during incarceration. Moreover, even if youth are correctly assessed and recommended for programming or services, DJJ frequently does not have the capacity to provide appropriate services to youth or provides services inconsistently.

It is in the realm of mental health servicesF059 that the state's shortcomings are particularly evident:

  • Prior to DJJ commitment, one youth was admitted to a psychiatric hospital four times for "suicidal ideations." The youth received no mental health treatment during DJJ commitment.F060
  • One youth's hospitalization report recorded manifold mental health conditions (bipolar, PTSD, depression, insomnia). Upon DJJ commitment, the youth was only referred to substance abuse treatment.F061
  • One youth had an extensive psychological history, including hospitalization and suicide watch during previous stays in county detention. Upon commitment to DJJ, the youth was rated Mental Health Level-1 ("MHL-1"), received one counseling session, and was then downgraded to MHL-0. No further mental health services were provided.F062
  • One youth had been the victim of sexual abuse prior to initial incarceration. The youth had an extensive mental health history, ADHD, difficulties with anger management, and substance abuse history. The youth had a history of suicidal thoughts and depression and had been on crisis watch at a county detention center. Upon DJJ commitment, there was no record of any mental health services provided after the initial screening and one individual therapy session.F063
  • Upon initial incarceration, one youth was classified as needing Special Education services. The youth was enrolled in the special education program at IYC-Chicago, but was placed in general education when transferred to IYC-Harrisburg. The youth's Individualized Education Program ("IEP") at Harrisburg recorded that the youth was still eligible for special education services.F064

With Commission funding support, DJJ is aggressively moving to institute an evidence-based screening and assessment system. However, individual youth do not currently receive an individualized case plan which drives programming, services or treatment. Youth do not receive services tailored to reduce the risks they present, address their immediate and long-term needs, or build on their strengths and goals.

RELEASE HEARINGS DO NOT FOSTER EFFECTIVE RELEASE DECISIONS OR SUCCESSFUL YOUTH REENTRY

Under current Illinois law, the Prisoner Review Board alone has the authority to release a youth from incarceration and place him on parole.F065 However, PRB release hearings are currently a pro forma release determination, since only youth pre-selected by DJJ appear at parole hearings. PRB members therefore conduct little substantive independent review of either youth readiness or DJJ's release planning.F066

The Prisoner Review Board Is Not a Juvenile-Focused Body

The Prisoner Review Board is a 15-person body appointed by the Governor and with the advice and consent of the Senate. According to the Prisoner Review Board's 2009 annual report, only 6.5 percent of the Prisoner Review Board's activities are juvenile related.F067

Percentage of Juvenile-related Patrol Review Board Activities Pie Chart

Description of Percentage of Juvenile-related Patrol Review Board Activities Pie Chart

Percentage of Juvenile-related Prisoner Review Board's Activities

Label Percent
Adult Cases 93.5
Juvenile Cases 6.5

Statutorily, 6 of the 15 Prisoner Review Board members are required to have "at least 3 years of experience in the field of juvenile matters."F068 The statute does not define "experience in juvenile matters," but when the DCFS/DJJ Aftercare Merger Workgroup asked the Prisoner Review Board which of its members had the requisite juvenile experience, the Prisoner Review Board stated that all 15 PRB members gain experience in juvenile matters by sitting on the Prisoner Review Board.F069

The Prisoner Review Board Frequently Fails to Conduct Substantive Release Hearings

Parole hearings take place at the IYC facility where a youth is incarcerated. At some facilities, parole hearings take place in private make-shift rooms, using temporary dividers. At others, hearings occur in a large gym, where several folding tables are set up for the hearing. Three hearings typically occur simultaneously. Commissioners observed that youth coming from segregation appear at their hearing in wrist shackles and chained to a correctional officer.

At least one PRB member and one youth must always appear at a release hearing. An IYC staff member commonly attends a hearing to represent DJJ's position regarding the youth's release.

When a parole hearing begins, the PRB member receives the juvenile's master file,F070 which may contain documents such as the youth's police and court documents, disciplinary records from incarceration, a report provided by the Probation Department to the juvenile court judge at the time of commitment, and institutional education and treatment progress. The PRB member also receives any letters sent by the committing county's State's Attorney objecting to parole, a brief summary of the youth's incarceration written by the IYC facility, as well as any certificates of program completion presented by the youth. Master files can be quite lengthy. Nonetheless, Commissioners observed that in many cases the PRB member did not review the master file at all and instead relied on a 1- to 2-page summary of the youth's incarceration prepared by DJJ.

In some instances, Commissioners observed the PRB conduct substantive hearings, in which the PRB member reviewed the youth's master file and engaged in a meaningful discussion with the youth. Far more frequently, however, Commissioners observed the PRB conduct quick, cursory hearings that failed to recognize an individual youth's strengths, risks, or needs.

One Commissioner observed a hearing in which there was "no time for introduction or discussion. [The PRB hearing officer] was reading the wrong form and initially was going to deny parole. Then someone walked by and noticed the sheet did not match the kid sitting there. [The] youth was paroled."

The Prisoner Review Board Frequently Fails to Conduct Substantive Release Hearings

Parole hearings take place at the IYC facility where a youth is incarcerated. At some facilities, parole hearings take place in private make-shift rooms, using temporary dividers. At others, hearings occur in a large gym, where several folding tables are set up for the hearing. Three hearings typically occur simultaneously. Commissioners observed that youth coming from segregation appear at their hearing in wrist shackles and chained to a correctional officer.

At least one PRB member and one youth must always appear at a release hearing. An IYC staff member commonly attends a hearing to represent DJJ's position regarding the youth's release.

When a parole hearing begins, the PRB member receives the juvenile's master file,F071 which may contain documents such as the youth's police and court documents, disciplinary records from incarceration, a report provided by the Probation Department to the juvenile court judge at the time of commitment, and institutional education and treatment progress. The PRB member also receives any letters sent by the committing county's State's Attorney objecting to parole, a brief summary of the youth's incarceration written by the IYC facility, as well as any certificates of program completion presented by the youth. Master files can be quite lengthy. Nonetheless, Commissioners observed that in many cases the PRB member did not review the master file at all and instead relied on a 1- to 2-page summary of the youth's incarceration prepared by DJJ.

In some instances, Commissioners observed the PRB conduct substantive hearings, in which the PRB member reviewed the youth's master file and engaged in a meaningful discussion with the youth. Far more frequently, however, Commissioners observed the PRB conduct quick, cursory hearings that failed to recognize an individual youth's strengths, risks, or needs.

One Commissioner observed a hearing in which there was "no time for introduction or discussion. [The PRB hearing officer] was reading the wrong form and initially was going to deny parole. Then someone walked by and noticed the sheet did not match the kid sitting there. [The] youth was paroled."

The PRB Provides Minimal Explanation of the Hearing Process and Its Decision to Youth

In most of the parole hearings observed by Commissioners, PRB members failed to explain the purpose and outcome of the hearing to the youth. The PRB member explained the purpose of the hearing to youth in only 33 percent of the hearings and asked the youth if he or she understood the purpose of the hearing only 24 percent of the time. In only 37 percent of parole hearings did the PRB member ask the youth if he or she understood the Board's ultimate decision.

Statutorily, the PRB must provide a written explanation of the parole decision to the youth.F072 However, the Commission observed that youth received documentation of the parole decision in only eight percent of hearings observed by the Commission. While the youth may eventually be provided with a copy of the decision form by IYC staff or a parole agent, youth are frequently left in limbo as to the outcome of the hearing, especially given the infrequency with which the hearing purpose and decision are explained.

At one facility, Commissioners observed youth being instructed to sign blank parole decision forms, acknowledging their understanding of the hearing outcome, before the start of the proceeding.

Percentage of Parole Hearing Bar Chart

Description of Percentage of Parole Hearing Bar Chart

Percentage of Parole Hearings

Label Percent
Provided Documentation of Hearing Decision 8.1
Asked if Youth Understood Decision 36.6
Asked if Youth Understood Purpose of Hearing 24.4
Explained Purpose of Hearing 32.5
Family Member Present 51.2

PRB Decisions are Made by a Single Board Member, in Contravention of Legal Requirements

By law, at least one PRB member must interview the youth at a hearing, but the determination for release must be made by a panel of three PRB members.F073 Commissioners consistently observed that one PRB member conducts hearings, as is required by statute, but that two other PRB members simply sign the decision, without any review whatsoever. The Commission observed only four hearings, out of 123, in which a PRB member consulted other board members in making a release decision.

PRB Release Decisions Are Not Based on Uniform, Evidence-Based, or Publicly Known Criteria

The Prisoner Review Board is granted discretion in making a release determination, but the discretion is circumscribed by administrative guidelines, available relevant evidence,F074 and the best interests of the youth and community.F075

In contrast to these parameters, Commissioners observed that each PRB member has developed an idiosyncratic set of criteria to determine whether a youth ought to be released and the conditions of parole mandated for a youth; these criteria are unpublished and inconsistent among PRB members. Commissioners observed arbitrary release determinations and parole conditions with little review of available evidence such as the DJJ master file, and without established institutional guidance or oversight.

Commissioners observed that some PRB members will not release youth if they do not have family in attendance. Others will not release youth if they had received a disciplinary violation within a certain timeframe before a parole hearing. As a PRB member told a youth: "It's my personal policy not to parole if there's [disciplinary] tickets." One Commissioner observed that "PRB hearings and release decisions are sometimes delayed for disciplinary reasons tantamount to typical adolescent behavior without regard to whether those behaviors suggest the youth is a threat to self or others, could be better served in the community, or is likely to recidivate."

Commissioners observed that fundamentally, parole hearings are an ineffective mechanism to make decisions in the best interest of youth and the community. A sample of Commissioner observations include:

  • "[Parole] decisions are sometimes arbitrary, capricious, and in general not professionally sound in most cases."
  • "[Parole] decisions are not based on solid clinical, therapeutic information, or rehabilitative factors in most cases."
  • "PRB members & IYC staff are seriously in need of training/education regarding adolescent development, therapeutic treatment modalities, the number, range & quality of community-based services, institutional best practices for juvenile corrections, etc."
  • "I question whether the PRB process is really the best way to handle parole decision[s]. It seems like a potentially inefficient and ineffective and perhaps even unjust way to handle parole decisions."
  • "My overall thoughts on the way the process worked after sitting in . . . [were] that in sum the system was fatally flawed. I could not glean from my conversation with [the PRB member] other than overseeing juvenile PRB hearings, what relevant expertise or experience he had to make parole decisions for youth."
  • "The Prisoner Review Board is unsuited to make clinical release determinations that address both youth needs and public safety considerations. [Most] PRB members do not have meaningful experience working with adolescent youth, nor a substantive knowledge of clinical risk and needs assessments. The PRB does not have adequate interaction with the youth, or an understanding of the youth's background, interests, education, or family life. . . . The current parole hearing system results in arbitrary decisions that protect neither youth nor public safety."

Release hearings included little or no examination of a youth's primary risk factors for recidivism, strategies for addressing them, or a youth's personal strengths or goals. As a result, the release decisions made by the PRB fell far short of being objective, well-informed, fair or individualized.

Release Conditions Mandated by the PRB Are Not Tailored to Reduce Risk or Produce Positive Outcomes

While the PRB's overall release decision may often reflect DJJ's determination of readiness for release, the PRB has unchecked authority in mandating conditions of parole at release hearings. In addition to the 17 boilerplate conditions of parole that are applicable to all parolees in Illinois (both adults and juveniles),F076 the PRB can and does establish additional conditions of parole. Frequent "special conditions" of parole include: procuring substance abuse treatment, anger management, or mental health services; remaining under in-home electronic detention; attending school; seeking employment; and abiding by a particular curfew.

Conditions of parole define the parameters of a youth's entire release process. Consequently, appropriate conditions of parole are vital for successful youth reentry. The Commission found, however, that the conditions of parole mandated by the Prisoner Review Board frequently did not match identified youth needs, despite the availability of DJJ records. Conditions of parole are mandated by the PRB without meaningful youth, family, or advocate input.

For example, the Commission found that:

  • while 65 percent of youth were recommended for (by IYC screeners) mental health services, only 35 percent of youth were mandated to receive mental health services while on parole;
  • while 29 percent of youth were recommended for anger management treatment, only 8 percent of youth were mandated to attend an anger management program.

Commissioners consistently observed that parole conditions imposed were arbitrary, imposed by rote and based primarily upon the choices available on a boiler-plate adult parole order form. As a result, mandated services and conditions were not tailored to produce positive youth outcomes. To the extent that these processes and decisions appear to be arbitrary or unrelated to the needs of an individual youth, this model may actually undermine compliance with the terms of parole. Regardless of the appropriateness of the terms and conditions imposed on youth, there were few or no mechanisms in place to effectively communicate expectations to youth, families, facilities, or parole agents.

Mental Health Services Recommendation and Provisions Column Chart

Description of Mental Health Services Recommendation and Provisions Column Chart

Mental Health Service Recommendation and Provision from Incarceration Through Parole Conditions

Label Percentage of Youth
Service Recommended by IYC Screening 65.0
Service Received at IYC 52.1
Service Listed as a Parole Condition 34.7
Anger Management Service Recommendation and Provisions Column Chart

Description of Anger Management Service Recommendation and Provisions Column Chart

Anger Management Service Recommendation and Provision from Incarceration Through Parole Conditions

Label Percentage of Youth
Service Recommended by IYC Screening 28.8
Service Received at IYC 13.2
Service Listed as a Parole Condition 8.5

C. RECOMMENDATIONS FOR REFORM

DJJ Must be Equipped and Accountable for Preparing Youth for Timely, Successful Release

The State of Illinois is responsible for ensuring that youth are in fact receiving the services and guidance required to achieve the Department's release and discharge goals for youth in the shortest period of time possible, while protecting public safety goals. At a minimum, the state must equip DJJ to:

  • identify the needs and strengths of the youth in its care, through evidence-based, youth-specific screening and assessment tools;
  • develop individualized case plans for the youth in its care; and
  • deliver high-quality education, treatment, and programming which meet the identified needs of youth and build upon individual youth's strengths and goals.

Because individualized case planning is an essential component of preparing youth for timely release, the Department must promulgate both formal rules and internal policies governing regular review of youth case plans, to ensure effective release planning, service provision, and youth progress.

Case reviewers should retain sufficient independence from the case planning and service delivery personnel whose actions they will review.F077 Case reviewers may be DJJ personnel but alternately could be contracted through a shared services agreement with another child-serving agency.F078 Their decisions should be subject to further review, if warranted, and DJJ must provide an appropriate mechanism for youth to appeal case review decisions.

Youth, their parents/guardians, and the DJJ professionals primarily responsible for case planning and treatment (e.g. Aftercare Specialists) must participate in the case reviews. Other parties (advocates, attorneys, family members, educators, and non-DJJ treatment providers) must be allowed to participate with the consent of either the youth or DJJ, and youth must be fully engaged in this process. This review should be an integral component of a youth's treatment in facilities and should occur as frequently as necessary to allow both thorough review and swift remedies (e.g. on a monthly, bimonthly, or quarterly basis). Case plan reviews should be crafted to:

  • ensure that DJJ has sufficiently assessed the youth's needs, risks, and protective factors;
  • ensure that DJJ has, in conjunction with the youth and any family or community supporters, created an appropriate individualized rehabilitation and release plan;
  • discuss the content of rehabilitation and release plans with the youth, ensuring that youth understand what is expected of them;
  • review whether all necessary services are being provided by DJJ and document any deficiencies;
  • review whether youth are complying with the rehabilitation and release plan and, if they are not complying, determine whether changes in the service plan or goals are needed;
  • address any educational, health, behavioral, emotional, or other needs of the youth;
  • determine whether or not service provision in a locked secure facility is still required (e.g. provide a meaningful opportunity for release); and
  • set goals for the next case review period, report findings and make recommendations.

A follow-up review should occur in advance of the next regularly-scheduled review period if there are any documented service provision deficiencies, as these must be corrected without delay. Youth should be granted a limited right (e.g. once or twice per year) to request a special case plan review on an expedited schedule (in advance of the next regularly-scheduled review). Youth must be informed of this right and how to exercise it upon entering DJJ custody and at every regular case plan review.

Release Hearings Must Occur at DJJ Recommendation, at Youth Request, and at Regularly-Scheduled Intervals

Because most clinical services can be delivered at a lower cost in community settings and result in better outcomes, timely release is an important state fiscal and public safety interest, not only a civil liberty interest for individual youth.

Currently, youth are presented for release based largely on the offense-driven, formulaic Administrative Release Date, which is inconsistent with Illinois' indeterminate/rehabilitative sentencing laws and minimizes DJJ's accountability to prepare a youth for successful release. The process by which youth are presented for release consideration must instead be based on the individual youth's case plan and the youth's progress toward release readiness.

DJJ must establish and promulgate consistent, evidence-based criteria for release readiness. Whenever DJJ determines that a youth meets its release criteria, it must present the youth to the PRB for a release hearing without delay. DJJ staff, youth and families must develop in-facility goals for youth and must create clear, practical plans to achieve these goals in a timely manner. At fixed intervals (e.g. monthly), DJJ must assess each youth's risk level and treatment progress according to the established release standards to determine whether youth is ready for release. DJJ must articulate to youth the progress the youth must achieve for release, creating clear behavioral and programmatic goalposts for each youth. Training, technical assistance and quality assurance will be essential components of moving DJJ toward an effective release-preparation model.

Youth must have their right to request a hearing made meaningful. While youth are currently entitled to request a parole hearing at any time, they are not informed of this right and there are no practical mechanisms to request consideration. DJJ must inform youth of their right to be presented for release and must develop rules, policies, and mechanisms to achieve meaningful consideration of release readiness by the PRB upon youth request.

Statutorily-mandated review of release readiness, now required annually, should be required every six months. Annual reviews are a concept geared toward fully developed adults and do not comport with the fast pace of adolescent development, nor do they mitigate the negative impact of unnecessarily lengthy stays in a prison facility on impressionable youth. The procedural and structural improvements applicable to other release consideration hearings must be applied to the mandated reviews as well.

Prisoner Review Board Members Must Be Highly-Qualified in Juvenile Specific Issues

The Prisoner Review Board currently uses criminal justice measures such as length of time served and number of institutional tickets as the primary basis to judge youth release readiness, employing standards that presume adult capabilities and disregard actual risk levels. Youth do not weigh consequences or plan for the future the way adults can and do. Given the right support and appropriate supervision, most youth are also capable of positive change and growth.

Responding appropriately to the differences between youth and adults does not require absolving youth of accountability for harmful behavior. Instead, it requires skilled professionals charged with moving a youth toward successful and safe return to the community. In order to achieve the principles of the juvenile justice system during the release process, all PRB members hearing youth cases must be highly qualified to conduct youth hearings, knowledgeable in youth issues and skilled in interacting with youth, their families, and DJJ facility and aftercare staff.

The state must therefore develop heightened qualifications for PRB members who will handle youth caseloads and meaningful measures to identify and retain qualified Board members. Youth-appropriate qualifications must be demonstrable prior to hearing a juvenile parole case, not acquired on the job or "as a result" of hearing youth cases, as is currently the situation. PRB members must also receive advanced, on-going professional development and training on issues such as:

  • Adolescent brain development and decision-making;
  • Trauma, its impact on youth development and effective trauma-informed services;F079
  • Evidence-based practices in identifying youth needs, strengths and assets;
  • Evidence-based, youth-oriented services, supervision and support before and after release from secure detention;
  • Principles of effective institutional case management, including family engagement in positive behavioral change and use of community-based services and support;
  • Behavioral health (mental health and substance abuse) needs of justice-involved youth and effective means of addressing those needs; and
  • Effective interactions with youth, families and staff, including age-appropriate communication, special attention to issues impacting fundamental fairness, and motivational interviewing and other procedural justice strategiesF080

This type of advanced training must be coupled with ongoing support and quality assurance, recognizing that PRB members hearing youth matters make decisions that affect the trajectory of a youth's life and the well-being of the community.

The State Must Develop Detailed Criteria for Release

To ensure that release decisions are well-informed, objective and fair, there must be clarity about the appropriate criteria for release. The Commission recommends that DJJ, the PRB, and the Commission work together to identify standards for assessing a youth's readiness for release which focus on:

  • The best interests of the individual youth and whether the youth's needs will be better addressed in a secure facility or in a community-based setting;
  • The youth's risk to reoffend;
  • The least-restrictive setting in which the youth's risks for reoffending can be effectively addressed; and
  • The supervision and service strategies most likely to assist the youth in developing needed skills and competencies, including education, vocational skills and employment opportunities.

The State Must Establish Standard Protocols for Determining and Communicating Release Readiness

Although release criteria will serve as consistent, objective guidelines for assessing release readiness, the decision of whether and under what conditions to release youth must be based on individual youth risk levels, needs, and the specific services required to develop youth competencies and skills.

Community corrections research consistently demonstrates that a primary focus on "static" or unchangeable factors (such as offense history) is of limited utility in making release decisions or developing aftercare plans. Therefore, DJJ and the PRB must use validated assessment tools which also focus on the "dynamic" or changeable factors in a youth's life - such as attitudes and values, decision-making skills, relationships with pro-social peers and adults, and educational engagement.

The PRB Must Appropriately Convey Release Decisions and Conditions to Youth

In observing parole hearings, Commissioners noted that even when a hearing had resulted in a favorable decision, youth and families often did not understand what had occurred or why. They also did not appear to understand what was going to happen next, what was expected of them, nor what to expect from the parole agent assigned to their cases. The boiler-plate parole order, based on the form used for the adult Department of Corrections, conveys little meaningful information about PRB decisions or youth obligations. Confusion over these matters does not advance the ability and motivation of youth to comply fully with the terms of their parole.

PRB members must communicate more effectively both orally and in writing to ensure that youth, families and staff know their rights and obligations and to motivate compliance. The PRB must develop internal standards regarding communication about juvenile cases, so that decisions are understood and, whenever possible, considered objective, fair, and just.

Release Hearings Must Be Recorded and Denials Must Be Reviewable

Parole decisions are recorded on the adult-based boilerplate parole order, a form relying heavily on check-boxes to indicate decisions and parole conditions. There is no record created of what information was presented to the PRB, by whom or in what form. There is no record of any statements by a youth or his family in relation to readiness for release, or whether the PRB member found this information useful or compelling. There is no record of the key factors leading to a decision to release or - more importantly - what issues require further incarceration. In an overwhelming number of cases, the PRB member provides no written reason of any kind for his or her decision, thwarting internal oversight of members and decisions. There is no mechanism for review or reconsideration of a decision to deny release.

A decision by a single PRB member to deny release must be subject to review by a three-member panel within 30 days of the decision to deny release. To promote oversight and make meaningful review possible, parole hearings must be recorded either by transcription, electronic recording or - as a last resort - by the creation of more detailed forms which can capture the information presented, by whom, what weight it was accorded and how that information influenced the decision to deny release.

Each DJJ Facility Must Have a Legal Advocate Available

At the conclusion of a court case resulting in commitment to DJJ, youth cease to be represented by their public defender. Youth in facilities overwhelmingly have no access to attorneys or other outside advocates. Because length of incarceration is primarily a matter of agency discretion, a legal advocate must be available at each IYC facility, to assist youth in contesting excessive incarceration or interruptions in receiving required programs and services.


Footers

  1. 705 ILCS 405/5-750(3).
    Return to reference 32.
  2. 730 ILCS 5/3-3-8.
    Return to reference 33.
  3. 730 ILCS 5/3 10 7(b).
    Return to reference 34.
  4. Id.
    Return to reference 35.
  5. ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF JUVENILE JUSTICE, POLICY BULLETIN: PROJECTING AN ADMINISTRATIVE REVIEW DATE (ARD) (May 1, 2011). See Appendix H for a copy of the Administrative Review Data matrix.
    Return to reference 36.
  6. 730 ILCS 5/3-3-4(b).
    Return to reference 37.
  7. 730 ILCS 5/3-2.5-20(a)(5).
    Return to reference 38.
  8. 20 IL ADC 1610.35(e).
    Return to reference 39.
  9. 730 ILCS 5/3-3-1(b). Id.
    Return to reference 40.
  10. Id.
    Return to reference 41.
  11. 20 IL ADC 1610.35(c).
    Return to reference 42.
  12. 20 IL ADC 1610.35(b).
    Return to reference 43.
  13. Youth shall not be paroled if he "is in need of further institutional programs" and that "[p]arole would not be in the best interests of the youth or the community." 20 IL ADC 1610.35(b)(1)-(2).
    Return to reference 44.
  14. "In determining whether to grant or deny parole, the Board looks primarily to the following factors, although the decision is not limited to these factors when other relevant, compelling information is presented."

    Behavior outside of custody: prior criminal activity, as evidenced by official records; adjustment in school, as evidenced by documented reports specifying grades, disciplinary actions, school activities or any school-related accomplishments; adjustment to release from custody; employment history; support of family and community, as evidenced by oral or written expressions; associates in the community, as evidenced by reports from police and school officials or statements of the juvenile or his family; and goals for the future as expressed by the juvenile.

    Institutional behavior: any recent disciplinary actions; performance in institutional programs as evidenced by reports from counselors or teachers; defiance to established authority, as evidenced by demeanor and conduct at hearing or by institutional reports; lack of remorse for criminal activities, as evidenced by demeanor and conduct at hearing or by institutional reports; resolve to avoid re-incarceration, as evidenced by demeanor and conduct at hearing or by institutional reports; positive response to institutional programming, as evidenced by demeanor and conduct at hearing or by institutional reports. 20 IL ADC 1610.35(c).

    Return to reference 45.
  15. 730 ILCS 5/3 3 2(a); 730 ILCS 5/3 3 5(a).
    Return to reference 46.
  16. 730 ILCS 5/3-3-5(f).
    Return to reference 47.
  17. 730 ILCS 5/3 3 3(e); 20 IL ADC 1610.20(b).
    Return to reference 48.
  18. 730 ILCS 5-3-4(a).
    Return to reference 49.
  19. See Thomas A. Loughran, et al., Estimating a Dose-Response Relationship Between Length of Stay and Future Recidivism in Serious Juvenile Offenders, 47 CRIMINOLOGY 699 (2009) (finding no benefit to risk of future offending as a result of juvenile incarceration); D. Wayne Osgood and Laine O'Neill Briddell, Peer Effects in Juvenile Justice, in KENNETH A. DODGE, ET AL. (EDS.), DEVIANT PEER INFLUENCES IN PROGRAMS FOR YOUTH 141-161 (2006) (explaining that contagion of bad behavior among peers in juvenile justice programs is both more intense and more likely when youth are in residential placements); Uberto Gatti, et al., Iatrogenic Effect of Juvenile Justice, 50 J. OF CHILD PSYCHOL. & PSYCHIATRY 991 (2009) (finding that among a population of relatively high-risk juvenile offenders, juvenile justice system involvement had a negative impact upon future criminality and that the more restrictive and more intense the justice system intervention was, the greater its negative impact). "[P]lacement in an institution exerts by far the strongest criminogenic effect; the weakest effect is exerted by non-supervisory interventions, while supervisory interventions occupy an intermediate position." Id. at 995. For a summary of recent research concerning the harms of juvenile incarceration to both youth development and public safety, see RICHARD A. MENDEL, THE ANNIE E. CASEY FOUNDATION, No Place for Kids:  The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration (2011) (pdf). For a discussion of the enormous public cost of juvenile incarceration, see Southern Poverty Law Center & Florida Taxwatch, Fiscal Responsibility: The key to a safer, smarter, and stronger Juvenile Justice System - December 2010 (pdf).
    Return to reference 50.
  20. Kevin Burke & Steve Leben, Procedural Fairness: A Key Ingredient in Public Satisfaction, 44 COURT REVIEW 5-6 (2007). Procedural justice includes: allowing the offender to express his or her view, applying legal principles consistently, treating the offender with dignity, protecting the offender's rights, and providing an explanation or justification of the decision. When procedural justice is used, offenders perceive the decision to be fair and are therefore more likely to comply with the conditions. Id. See also Tom R. Tyler, Legitimacy in Corrections: Policy Implications, 9 CRIMINOLOGY & PUB. POL'Y 127 (2010).
    Return to reference 51.
  21. See U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, A GUIDE FOR PROBATION AND PAROLE: MOTIVATING OFFENDERS TO CHANGE 5 (June 2007). Effective interventions address the individual needs of the juvenile.
    Return to reference 52.
  22. 705 ILCS 405/5 101(1).
    Return to reference 53.
  23. Facility staff may write tickets for any institutional rule infraction. Some tickets are issued for serious or dangerous matters (e.g. fighting or stealing). Others are issued for minor impulsive behaviors (talking while lining up, talking during class, cursing) or arguably normative teenage behavior (not tucking shirts in, having a messy dorm, arguing with authorities). In one egregious example, a youth was incarcerated nearly two years past his ARD for disciplinary tickets. Parole File 237.
    Return to reference 54.
  24. Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice Juvenile Tracking System, "Institution Monthly Youth Profile as of 2/28/11" (March 1, 2011).
    Return to reference 55.
  25. The Commission file review found that DJJ employs a variety of assessments upon a youth's initial incarceration, which vary by facility. Assessment tools include: Texas Christian University-II Substance Abuse Assessment ("TCU-II"), General Assessment Instructional Needs ("GAIN"), Juvenile Assessment and Intervention System ("JAIS"), Childhood and Adolescent Needs and Strength ("CANS"), and Youth Assessment and Screening Instrument ("YASI"). Since the Commission's review of the files, DJJ has embarked on an overhaul of its assessment protocol. DJJ has received consultation and guidance from the DCFS-DJJ Assessment Workgroup and from MacArthur funded national experts in adolescent screening and assessment instruments.
    Return to reference 56.
  26. In California, for example, the state assesses a youth's commitment offense along with 20 factors, including protection of the public, attainment of institutional goals, family support, and educational progress in order to determine release readiness. CAL. CODE REGS. tit. 15, § 4945(j). When a youth is incarcerated in Missouri, he or she is assigned a service coordinator who oversees the youth's progress while in state custody. The service coordinator administers various need and risk based assessments, which consider factors such as the age of first offense and the youth's family history. Assessments help determine whether the youth has substance abuse needs, specific educational needs, psychiatric needs, etc. The youth's committing offense is only considered to the extent that it is relevant to assessing a youth's needs and risks. See Missouri Department of Social Services - Division of Youth Services Case Management.
    Return to reference 57.
  27. See ILLINOIS MODELS FOR CHANGE BEHAVIORAL ASSESSMENT TEAM, REPORT ON THE BEHAVIORAL HEALTH PROGRAM FOR YOUTH COMMITTED TO ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF JUVENILE JUSTICE 10 (2010). ("Absent aggressive treatment intervention, the mental health, substance use and trauma-related needs of youth in DJJ predispose them to negative outcomes both while in institutional custody and upon release."); see also Jason Brennen, Gary McClelland, Alison Schneider, Mike Stiehl & Dana Weiner, Mental Health Services & Policy Program, Northwestern University Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, DATA ANALYSIS AND POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS: JUVENILE JUSTICE AFTERCARE PLANNING (Sept. 2009) (manuscript on file with the Commission). "The majority of youth would be likely to benefit from some form of counseling to address trauma history, poor judgment and impulse control, anger, and psychiatric symptoms." Id. at 13.
    Return to reference 58.
  28. Youth can have high levels of mental health needs while remaining low-risk for reoffending. See John Junginger et al., Effects of Serious Mental Illness and Substance Abuse on Criminal Offenses, 57 PSYCHIATRIC SERVICES 879 (2006) (finding that serious mental illness has little effect on offending and is only weakly predictive of offense risk; many other social factors are more highly predictive of risk for all offenders, including those with mental illness). Furthermore, because incarceration exacerbates mental illnesses, it is more effective to deliver mental health care in a community setting rather than inside a prison. Youth should thus never remain incarcerated solely or primarily due to unaddressed mental health needs. Yet while mental health needs are not, per se, a risk factor for future offending, addressing the mental health needs of youth in its care is a fundamental responsibility of the state and proper mental health care is critical in minimizing the harms of incarceration and preparing youth for successful return home.
    Return to reference 59.
  29. As described in Methodology, the Commission coded the master file and AMS report for 387 youth. The Commission assigned a number to each of the youth. See Parole File 78.
    Return to reference 60.
  30. Parole File 81.
    Return to reference 61.
  31. Parole File 147. DJJ ranks and tracks the mental health levels of each youth in custody on a scale of 0-4. MHL-0 is equivalent to having no identified mental health needs.
    Return to reference 62.
  32. Parole File 202.
    Return to reference 63.
  33. Parole File 212.
    Return to reference 64.
  34. In addition to PRB release hearings, youth technically have two other options for release consideration by the PRB. Under the Illinois Administrative Code (20 IL ADC 1610.20(b)), all youth are immediately eligible for parole once they are incarcerated. However, youth are not informed of their right to request a hearing - not by their attorneys, Department of Juvenile Justice counselors, or by the Prisoner Review Board.

    In response to a questionnaire sent by the DCFS/DJJ Aftercare Merger Workgroup, the PRB indicated that the only way youth are informed of their right to request a hearing is by searching through the Illinois Administrative Code and Illinois Statue at a facility's law library. The Commission visited the libraries at seven of the eight facilities and none had a current copy of the Illinois Administrative Code and Illinois Compiled Statutes. Youth are thus completely unable to access information about their rights.

    Additionally, there is no mechanism or procedure in place to allow youth to request a hearing. In response to the DCFS/DJJ Merger Workgroup questions, the PRB indicated that only 1 in over 1,200 incarcerated youth exercised his right to request a hearing in the past year.

    Moreover, a youth should be considered for parole at an annual review hearing. Under the governing statute (730 ILCS 5-3-4(a)), juveniles must be considered for parole 30 days before the expiration of their first year of commitment, and every subsequent year that they are committed. Significantly, however, Juvenile Justice Commissioners did not observe any youth released at an annual review hearing. It is noteworthy that, while the Prisoner Review Board's Annual Report (2009) contains the percentage of youth released at parole hearings, it does not contain the percentage of youth released at annual reviews.

    If the Department of Juvenile Justice supports a youth's release, the hearing is considered a parole hearing, not an annual review. If DJJ does not support release, the hearing is considered an annual review and the youth is not released. Therefore, the annual review is not an opportunity for release unless DJJ supports release.

    Because the annual review is not a meaningful release determination, the content of annual reviews varies considerably between facilities and PRB members. For example, Commissioners observed annual reviews in which youth were not even present. As one Commissioner recorded, "the concept of annual reviews seemed not to be understood."

    Return to reference 65.
  35. The agency's most recent annual report (2009) documents that the PRB grants parole in 96 percent of parole hearings. State of Illinois Prisoner Review Board, Annual Report 2009 (pdf).
    Return to reference 66.
  36. Id
    Return to reference 67.
  37. 730 ILCS 5/3 3 1(b).
    Return to reference 68.
  38. See Appendix G for the Department of Juvenile Justice and Prisoner Review Board Responses to Questionnaires Submitted by the DCFS-DJJ Aftercare Merger Workgroup. Since the Commission's study began, the Governor has appointed a few new PRB members who have youth-related experience, but juvenile parole decisions are still not being made exclusively by those members, nor are any seated members required to maintain up-to-date training in juvenile justice best practices.
    Return to reference 69.
  39. See Appendix D for a list of all documents included in a master file.
    Return to reference 70.
  40. See Appendix D for a list of all documents included in a master file.
    Return to reference 71.
  41. 730 ILCS 5/3 3-5(f).
    Return to reference 72.
  42. 730ILCS 5/3-3-2(a); 730 ILCS 5/3-3-5(a).
    Return to reference 73.
  43. "The decision is a subjective determination based upon available relevant information." 20 IL ADC 1610.35(b).
    Return to reference 74.
  44. "Youth won't be paroled if he need of further institutional programs or if parole will not be in the best interests of the youth or the community." 20 IL ADC 1610.35(b)(1)-(2)
    Return to reference 75.
  45. A parolee must: not commit a crime in any jurisdiction, not possess a firearm or other dangerous weapon, report all arrests to an agent of the Department of Corrections within 24 hours after release from custody, successfully complete sex offender treatment if convicted of a sex offense, not possess narcotics or other controlled substances or frequent locations where controlled substances are illegally distributed, follow specific instructions provided by the parole agent, consent to searches of his person and property, provide truthful information to his parole officer and seek permission from the Department of Corrections before leaving the state or changing residences. 730 ILCS 5/3-3-7(a).
    Return to reference 76.
  46. For example, analogous DCFS reviews are administered within a separate Division of Administrative Case Review. 89 IL ADC 316.50(a).
    Return to reference 77.
  47. 730 ILCS 5/3-2.5-15(e). "Where possible, shared services which impact youth should be done with child-serving agencies." Id.
    Return to reference 78.
  48. SEE JULIAN FORD ET AL., NAT'L CENTER FOR MENTAL HEALTH AND JUV. JUST., TRAUMA AMONG YOUTH IN THE JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM: CRITICAL ISSUES AND NEW DIRECTIONS, 1-3 (June 2007). About 25% of 9-16 year olds in the general population report experiencing at least one traumatic incident, but this number is much higher (90 percent) among juvenile detainees. Id. Studies show that up to 50 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Id. Knowledge of trauma and PTSD among the juvenile justice population is required to provide effective interventions.
    Return to reference 79.
  49. See U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, A GUIDE FOR PROBATION AND PAROLE: MOTIVATING OFFENDERS TO CHANGE 1 (June 2007). The purpose of motivational interviewing (MI) is to listen to the offender and focus on the positive points they have expressed, thereby motivating positive changes in their lives. MI serves as a primary, evidence-based tool in medical and social service fields to motive positive behaviors.
    Return to reference 80.