Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission
815-823 East Monroe Street
Springfield, Illinois 62701
Telephone: 217-557-2109 Facsimile: 217-524-5586
Result of a Broken System: Most Youth Leaving State Prisons Are Destined to Return
State Report Recommends Fix: Extensive Changes to Reverse the Trend, Make Communities Safer and Save Tax Dollars
Faced with the daunting statistic that more than one-half of the youth released from prisons return in three years or less, the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission on Tuesday recommended steps to reverse that flow.
The "Youth Reentry Improvement Report" includes a series of findings and recommendations to improve public safety, reduce government spending on youth prisons, protect the constitutional rights of juveniles and increase the likelihood that young offenders will become responsible adults.
The recommendations are part of a first of its kind study of the effectiveness of the state's system of reintegrating juvenile offenders into their home communities following incarceration in the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) youth prisons. In addition to interviewing scores of participants in the system, Commission members observed 237 PRB hearings, which have never been subject to public review, and the Commission analyzed the files of 386 youth whose parole was revoked between Dec. 1, 2009 and May 31, 2010.
"An essential measurement of any juvenile "reentry" system is whether youth returning from incarceration remain safely and successfully within their communities," according to the report. "By this fundamental measure, Illinois is failing."
The "Youth Reentry Improvement Report" found that the system does little to prepare youth and families for the youths' return home; paroled youth rarely receive needed services or school linkages and too often are returned to expensive youth prisons due to technical parole violations; and Prisoner Review Board (PRB) parole revocation proceedings are largely perfunctory hearings where the youth's due process rights are not protected.
"Our research documented that 54 percent of juveniles being sent to state youth prisons have been there before and are returning because of technical parole violations," said George W. Timberlake, who is Chair of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission and retired chief judge of the Second Judicial Circuit. "The system is not doing enough to rehabilitate juveniles inside and outside prison walls, and it often is too quick to return youth to expensive prisons where failure again is likely.
"This state is spending upwards of $86,000 per year for every juvenile in a state prison," Timberlake added. "Some of those youth may need to be there for public safety reasons. However, many more of them could be rehabilitated for far less money in their home communities, and we're recommending steps the state should take to make sure those leaving prison don't return to prison.
"Successful rehabilitation would mean those youth would be far less likely to commit new crimes - more serious crimes - and would improve the safety of our communities," Timberlake said. "These recommendations, if implemented, could save money, save lives, and reduce the expensive cycle of reincarceration, which feeds our now overcrowded adult prisons as these youth go deeper and deeper into crime."
Read complete report here: Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission Youth ReEntry Improvement Report
The findings and recommendations include:
- DJJ fails to assess fully the rehabilitation needs of each youth and match needs with services provided during prison stays. Although DJJ is improving its capacity to assess youth appropriately, DJJ frequently does not have the capacity to provide appropriate services or provides them inconsistently.
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.
- The study found that the PRB's parole hearings were rushed and often perfunctory and that PRB decisions relied heavily on summary information presented by DJJ. (Unlike adult prisoners, youth serve open-ended sentences and can only be released from DJJ by reaching the age of 21, by order of the PRB, or because they served a sentence equal to the maximum sentence an adult would serve for the same offense.) The study also found that the purpose and processes for PRB hearings were not explained to youth and that conditions of parole set by the PRB frequently did not match the needs or circumstances of the juveniles.
To ensure more informed, objective release decisions and more appropriate conditions of parole, the state must ensure-as the statute requires - that all PRB members hearing youth cases are highly qualified to conduct youth hearings, knowledgeable in youth issues and skilled in interacting with youth, their families, and DJJ facility and aftercare staff. PRB members must also receive advanced, on-going professional development and training. In addition, the criteria the PRB uses for making decisions about when a youth is ready for release should be clear, and the assessment should include what is in the best interest of the youth and what is the least restrictive setting in which the youth's risks for reoffending can be effectively addressed.
- The overwhelming majority of youth in state prisons does not have access to attorneys or other outside advocates. As a result, youth are expected to present information and advocate for themselves.
There should be a legal advocate available at each youth prison to ensure that youth are not incarcerated for too long and that they are provided appropriate services upon release.
- Youth in state prisons were not informed of their right to request a parole hearing.
Youth must be informed of this right and legal advocates at each facility can ensure they are made aware of it. Additionally, release hearings should occur when a youth meets DJJ's criteria for release, when a hearing is requested by a youth, and every six months.
- The current aftercare system, which is run by the Parole Division of the Department of Corrections, was designed as a surveillance-based system for supervising adult parolees. This adult parole model fails to supervise or support youth adequately or assist them in locating and obtaining needed services to remain out of prison.
DJJ's new Aftercare Specialist program, now limited to Cook County, should be expanded statewide. In this pilot project, DJJ's Aftercare Specialists have been trained to assist and monitor juveniles on parole. The aftercare specialists have a juvenile-only caseload, are trained to ensure youth receive necessary services upon release and to monitor youth closely as they transition back into the community, and begin work with the youth and family on the first day of the youth's incarceration.
- More than one-half (54 percent) of youth reincarcerated while on parole were reincarcerated on technical parole violations, such as truancy, curfew violations or problems within the home.
DJJ should be responsible for developing youth-appropriate, graduated sanctions for violations of parole conditions and alternates to reincarcerating a youth for problems in the home or family. Neither aftercare specialists nor parole agents should rely on reincarceration as a response to technical violations that can be handled more successfully and at less expense through community-based supervision or graduated sanctions.
- Because youth routinely remain on parole until their 21st birthday in Illinois, they remain under the current adult surveillance system for years. Excessive time on parole only increases the likelihood of costly reincarceration for technical violations and does little to enhance successful reintegration into the community.
State law should be amended to limit post-release terms of parole.
- Under the U.S. Constitution and Illinois law, youth are entitled to certain due process rights at parole revocation hearings. However, youth rarely are informed of these rights at PRB hearings; they do not understand revocation hearings; they are not able to present evidence or challenge parole agents, who usually are not present; and most of the youth don't even have family members present.
Judges, rather than the PRB, should preside over parole revocation hearings. To promote fairness, uniformity and constitutional due process, parole revocation hearings require judicial oversight.
- DJJ has an outdated and flawed computerized information system that is inadequate to track youth through the system, plan appropriate services for the youth, analyze the results of that care and share case information with parole agents.
A system-wide data collection and case management system should be maintained to promote more efficient, effective measurement of individual youth progress as well as system outcomes, ensuring DJJ fiscal accountability and increased public safety.
The Youth Reentry and Improvement Law of 2009 mandated the Juvenile Justice Commission conduct the study, and the Commission's report has been delivered to Governor Pat Quinn and all members of the General Assembly.
Wayne M. Straza
- Rodney Ahitow
- Julie Biehl
- Marcus Cammon
- Demarco Diggs
- Veronica Dixon
- Esther Franco-Payne
- Arthur Bishop
- Eugene Griffin
- George H. Hill
- Toni Irving
- Arnetra Jackson
- Lisa Jacobs
- Karina Martinez
- Patrick Nelson
- Pamela F. Rodriguez
- Michael Rodriguez
- Ben Roe
- Randell Strickland
- Rick Velasquez
- Dana Weiner