I. Executive Summary


An essential measurement of any juvenile "reentry" system is whether youth returning from incarceration remain safe and successful within their communities. By this fundamental measure, Illinois is failing.

While precise data is difficult to come by (itself an indication of our current reentry shortcomings), it is clear that well over 50 percent of youth leaving Department of Juvenile Justice ("DJJ") facilities will be reincarcerated in juvenile facilities; many others will be incarcerated in the adult Department of Corrections ("DOC") in the future. The costs of failure are catastrophic for the young people in the state's care, for their families, and for our communities. The financial costs of this failing system are staggering as well: The Illinois Auditor General estimates that incarceration in a DJJ "Youth Center" cost $86,861 per year, per youth in FY10F001. Worse, the juvenile justice system is, in many ways, the "feeder system" to the adult criminal justice system and a cycle of crime, victimization and incarceration. Today, nearly 50,000 people are incarcerated in Illinois prisons at an immediate annual cost to the state of well over $1 billionF002. The economic ripple effect of incarceration inflates taxpayer costs even moreF003. In human terms, we must do better for our young people and our communities. In fiscal terms, we simply cannot afford to continue business as usual.

There is good news: Young people are capable of tremendous positive change and growth and - with the right support, supervision and services - youth leaving DJJ facilities can become valued assets in our communities. In addition, there is burgeoning knowledge in Illinois and beyond about adolescent brain development, effective community-based supervision and services, and "what works" with young offenders. Perhaps most importantly, there is growing leadership and commitment in Illinois to do what is necessary to ensure that young people leaving the state's custody return home safely and successfully. This report provides the findings and recommendations of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, as required by the Youth Reentry and Improvement Law of 2009, 20 ILCS 505/17a-5(5.1), to realize this vision of safe communities, positive outcomes for our youth, and responsible use of public resources.

The Illinois Juvenile Justice System

Illinois has long been a pioneer in juvenile justice, creating the first juvenile court in the United States in 1899F004. Proponents of the original juvenile court understood that the moral culpability of youth is significantly different from that of adults, necessitating a distinct juvenile justice system.F005 Today, we also understand that youth are biologically different from adults and thus their delinquent behavior requires a unique response from the state. As described in the recent United States Supreme Court decision Graham v. Florida:

As compared to adults, juveniles have a lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility; they are more vulnerable or susceptible to negative influences and outside pressures, including peer pressures; and their characters are not as well formed. . . . A juvenile is not absolved of responsibility for his actions, but his transgression is not as morally reprehensible as that of an adult. . . . [D]evelopments in psychology and brain science continue to show fundamental differences between juvenile and adult minds. For example, parts of the brain involved in behavior control continue to mature through late adolescence. . . . Juveniles are more capable of change than are adults, and their actions are less likely to be evidence of irretrievably depraved character than are the actions of adults. It remains true that from a moral standpoint it would be misguided to equate the failings of a minor with those of an adult, for a greater possibility exists that a minor's character deficiencies will be reformed.F006

As a State, we recognize the potential for youth to "avoid delinquent futures and become productive, fulfilled citizens."F007 The Illinois Juvenile Court Act states: "[i]t is the intent of the General Legislature to promote a juvenile justice system . . . [which] equip[s] juvenile offenders with competencies to live responsibly and productively . . . and enables a minor to mature into a productive member of society."F008

There are many differences between the juvenile and adult judicial systems. One key difference for the purpose of this report is the sentencing of juveniles. Most citizens are familiar with the adult system, where a judge sentences an offender to a finite prison sentence. When a judge decides to send a juvenile to serve a sentence in the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, however, that sentence is indeterminate, or open-endedF009. Juveniles can only be released from DJJ by reaching the age of 21 or by a decision of the Prisoner Review Board. (See Section III. A. for additional details.)

In 2006, Illinois, in further recognition of the unique needs of youth and the differences between the juvenile and adult systems, established the Department of Juvenile Justice, independent of the Department of Corrections. The dual mission of the Department of Juvenile Justice is to hold juvenile offenders accountable for illegal conduct and to rehabilitate youth to become productive members of the community.F010

In spite of the separation of DJJ from DOC and numerous federal and Illinois laws recognizing the inherent differences between youth and adults, the reality for Illinois youth is that once they are committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice, they are subject to a system of release decision-making, parole, and revocation that is functionally identical to the adult system and modeled on adult culpability and capability. The application of these adult approaches to youth is problematic -- not just for developmental and fundamental fairness reasons, but because it does not work. Simply put, the drawbacks of relying upon a flawed surveillance-only punishment strategy for youth on parole are clear: unacceptably high reincarceration rates for youth with no corresponding fiscal or safety benefit to the public.

Basic facts about the Illinois juvenile justice system support this conclusion. Recently released population data from the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice reveals that in seven out of the past eight years, technical parole violators (e.g. youth who violated curfew, failed to attend school, are unemployed, failed to obey house rules, etc.) represented a greater percentage of the incarcerated juvenile population than any other type of admission, whereas youth who committed a new offense while on parole comprised only 2 percent of the average DJJ populationF011. In fact, on any given day, approximately 40 percent of incarcerated youth are technical parole violatorsF012. The large number of incarcerated juvenile technical parole violators - whose noncompliant behavior likely poses no threat to public safety - overextends DJJ resources and significantly undermines DJJ's ability to provide necessary programs for high risk and high need youth.

The Illinois Auditor General estimated that in FY 10 it cost the State of Illinois $86,861 to incarcerate one youth for a yearF013. By contrast, more effective community-based strategies cost far less; examples include Functional Family Therapy, which costs $3,198-$3,309 per year, and Multisystemic Therapy, which costs $7,206-$7,280 - a savings of at least $79,581, per youth per yearF014. Improved reentry strategies that reduce reincarceration for technical violations are therefore critical to the fiscal health of Illinois.

Over the course of this study, the Commission has noted that there are many highly-qualified, caring professionals working at all stages of the juvenile justice system. However, this report highlights the ways in which the system is structurally flawed and that, rather than supporting the qualified professionals who strive for positive youth outcomes and public safety, the current juvenile justice system impedes and contradicts their efforts.

Commission's Youth Reentry Improvement Analysis and Policy Recommendations

Under the Youth Reentry and Improvement Law of 2009, the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission ("Commission") was charged with developing recommendations to ensure the effective reintegration of youth offenders into the community.F015

The Commission reentry study represents a significant undertaking, in which the Commission amassed an unprecedented amount of data and insight into the juvenile reentry and revocation system. Specifically, the Commission:

  • reviewed nearly 400 files of youth whose parole was revoked;
  • observed over 230 Prisoner Review Board ("PRB") juvenile hearings;
  • met with DJJ, DOC, Department of Children and Family Services ("DCFS"), and PRB staff multiple times over the course of the study and analysis;
  • reviewed Illinois' and other states' statutes, case law, rules, policies, and procedures regarding juvenile sentencing, release, parole, and revocation; and
  • researched best practices regarding juvenile release decision-making, reentry, and revocation.

In this report, the Commission presents its findings on the current systemic failures of the Illinois juvenile justice reentry system, highlights of which are summarized below.

  • The current release decision making process for youth undermines the rehabilitation and public safety goals of the Illinois juvenile justice system in that:
    • release is largely dictated by a youth's committing offense and alleged disciplinary violations while incarcerated, instead of by an informed, objective determination that it is in the best interest of the youth and the public for the youth to be released;
    • no independent review mechanism assesses or documents the youth's rehabilitative progress and the appropriateness of continued incarceration; and
    • conditions of parole restricting movement, prohibiting activities, and mandating programs or services are established without evidence or meaningful basis and without support to encourage their completion.
  • Youths' constitutional due process protections are violated by the basic structure and process of Prisoner Review Board revocation proceedings in that:
    • youth are not informed of their right to request counsel at revocation hearings;
    • youth are denied the opportunity to present and review evidence;
    • youth are denied the ability to cross-examine adverse witnesses;
    • revocation determinations are idiosyncratic, subjective, premised on a cursory review of documents, void of guidelines, and not reviewable; and
    • PRB members fail to explain the purpose of the hearing to the youth or provide the youth with a substantive written explanation of the decision.
  • The current parole system, which is operated by the Department of Corrections' adult parole division, is costly and ineffective at sustaining pro-social youth behavior, enhancing public safety, and reducing recidivism, in that:
    • parole agents supervise mixed caseloads of both adults and juvenilesF016 and are unable to use specialized youth reentry strategies;
    • parole agents do not effectively link youth to state-mandated or essential services; yet
    • parole agents file technical parole arrest warrants on approximately half of youth on parole.
  • The Department of Juvenile Justice youth tracking software is antiquated and fails to effectively manage youth assessments, programming progress, and public safety monitoring.

Based on the Commission's extensive research and findings, this report presents recommendations for reform that will promote the effective reintegration of youth offenders into the community while ensuring youths' constitutional due process protections.

  • The Department of Juvenile Justice must prepare youth for timely release and qualified members of the Prisoner Review Board must increase the frequency and quality of release hearings.
  • The current Department of Corrections adult parole surveillance model for juveniles should be replaced by a statewide extension of DJJ's Aftercare Specialist pilot program.
  • A court must make parole revocation determinations; Prisoner Review Board revocation hearings do not afford youth constitutional due process protections.
  • The Department of Juvenile Justice must develop and implement an integrated case management system to facilitate necessary information sharing, which will allow effective youth case planning and monitoring.


  1. See STATE OF ILLINOIS AUDITOR GENERAL, DEPARTMENT OF JUVENILE JUSTICE COMPLIANCE EXAMINATION FOR THE TWO YEARS ENDED JUNE 30, 2010, available at Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice Compliance Examination (pdf).
    Return to reference 1.
  2. See ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, ANNUAL REPORT FY 2009, available at: FY09 DOC Annual Report (pdf); see also STATE OF ILLINOIS FISCAL YEAR 2012 AGENCY FACT SHEETS, available at FY12 Agency Fact Sheets (pdf).
    Return to reference 2.
  3. Incarceration imposes significant collateral economic consequences upon not only the imprisoned and their families, but also upon communities and state taxpayers in general. For instance, most adult men (2/3) are employed prior to incarceration and half are the primary income source for their families. "Family income averaged over the years a father is incarcerated is 22 percent lower than family income was the year before a father is incarcerated. Even in the year after the father is released, family income remains 15 percent lower than it was the year before incarceration." PEW CHARITABLE TRUSTS, COLLATERAL COSTS: INCARCERATION'S EFFECT ON ECONOMIC MOBILITY 5 (2010). Disruption of earnings during incarceration shrinks the tax base at the same time that the inmate's family may require additional state assistance due to the loss of income; this is not a small demand on social services, as 1 in 28 children nationwide has a parent who is currently incarcerated. Id. at 4. After release, adult men earn 40 percent less per year than they did prior to incarceration, continuing the large-scale economic ripple effect.
    Return to reference 3.
    Return to reference 4.
  5. See Barry C. Feld, The Juvenile Court Meets the Principle of Offense: Punishment, Treatment and the Difference It Makes, 68 B.U. L. REV. 821, 822 (1988).
    Return to reference 5.
  6. Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. __, 130 S. Ct. 2011 (2010)
    Return to reference 6.
  7. 730 ILCS 5/3-2.5-5
    Return to reference 7.
  8. 705 ILCS 405/5 101(1).
    Return to reference 8.
  9. Sentences for first degree murder, however, are non-discretionary. See 705 ILCS 405/5-750(2). It is noteworthy that currently only three youth out of the total DJJ population of 1200 are sentenced for first degree murder. Interview with Chris Bernard, Juvenile Justice Project Director, John Howard Association of Illinois (October 18, 2011).
    Return to reference 9.
  10. "Understanding that youth have different needs than adults, it is the mission of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice to preserve public safety by reducing recidivism. Youth committed to the Department's care will receive individualized services provided by qualified staff that give them the skills to become productive citizens." MISSION STATEMENT, ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF JUVENILE JUSTICE, available at IDJJ Mission_Statement.
    Return to reference 10.
  11. See Appendix B, Department of Juvenile Justice, Juvenile Institutions Monthly Population Summary, Fiscal Years 2003-2010.
    Return to reference 11.
  12. Id.
    Return to reference 12.
    Return to reference 13.
  14. Official cost estimates for contemporary evidence-based therapies are rare. To calculate expenses and cost savings of community-based therapies, the Commission requested cost information about two particular evidence-based therapeutic programs from One Hope United, a Chicago-based nonprofit federation of social service agencies serving 15,000 children in 4 states. See email correspondence with Patricia Griffith, Executive Director, One Hope United (Oct. 17, 2011) (on file with the Commission). Estimates received from One Hope United are in line with those cited in a recent agency publication from the State of Washington, also comprising the cost range cited in this report. See WASH. STATE INST. FOR PUB. POLICY, RETURN ON INVESTMENT: Evidence-Based Options To Improve Statewide Outcomes (pdf) 4 (July 2011).
    Return to reference 14.
  15. In addition to policy recommendations, the law directed the Commission to provide the following information on youth whose parole was revoked:
    • the number of youth confined in the Department of Juvenile Justice for revocation based on a technical parole violation,
    • the length of time the youth spent on parole prior to the revocation,
    • the nature of the committing offense that served as the basis for the original commitment,
    • demographic information including age, race, sex, and zip code of the underlying offense, and
    • the conduct leading to revocation.

    The statutorily mandated data is attached as Appendix A. 

    Return to reference 15.

  16. In Region 1, parole officers do have juvenile-only caseloads. However, these officers do not have adequate juvenile-specific training, specialized resources, or strategies at their disposal to supervise and support youth any more effectively than their counterparts who supervise blended adult/juvenile caseloads.
    Return to reference 16.