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Toni Irving, Governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Honored as Champion for Change in Juvenile Justice Reform

Irving’s “Dogged Determination” Recognized at National Meeting of

MacArthur-Supported Juvenile Justice Reform Initiative

CHICAGO – Toni Irving, deputy chief of staff to Governor Pat Quinn, is being honored by the MacArthur Foundation-supported Models for Change initiative as a Champion for Change in juvenile justice reform.

Irving, a Chicago resident, will receive the award Tuesday at the 6th annual Models for Change national conference in Washington, D.C., where she will be recognized for her efforts to make juvenile justice reform a hallmark of the Quinn Administration.  

Models for Change is the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s 16-state juvenile justice system reform initiative. Now in its 6th year, Models for Change is accelerating movement toward a more effective, fair and developmentally sound juvenile justice system by creating successful and replicable models that improve outcomes for youth, use resources wisely, and protect community safety.“

Juvenile justice matters too often received little attention from Illinois’ state-level leaders,” said Paula Wolff, senior executive with Metropolis Strategies and a member of the coordinating council of Illinois Models for Change. “Because of her dogged determination and leadership, juvenile justice matters now have a prominent place in the state’s policy, resource and programming discussions, and changes long envisioned are now occurring. Her leadership has significantly advanced juvenile justice reform efforts in Illinois.”  

Irving’s leadership has been applied with equal passion to big policy issues, as well as lower-profile but important operational issues of the state's youth prison and aftercare systems. She has helped increase resources for community-based services to rehabilitate youth, created cross-agency collaboration and forged long-term policy and practice change. As a result, Illinois has reduced the numbers of incarcerated youth, has expanded aftercare support to youth leaving state prisons and has protected public safety.  

Irving also has helped recast the state's juvenile justice policy infrastructure through the recreation of a potent Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, which advises the Governor and the General Assembly.  Prior to Quinn's elevation as Governor in 2010, the Commission had become all but dormant with so many vacancies it was difficult to muster a quorum needed to conduct business. Irving personally oversaw appointments of new Commissioners – many of whom are Models for Change leaders, grantees and partners. As a result, the Commission has been reformed, revitalized and refocused and is expected to play an important role in juvenile justice improvements for years to come.

“I am extremely thankful and proud to have a person as dedicated as Toni working in our administration to improve the well-being of Illinois’ youth,” Governor Quinn said. "She has made a point of making personal visits to DJJ facilities where she learned firsthand what is working, what needs to improve, and what plans are necessary to reform the system. Over the years, she really has proven herself as a model for change and is more than deserving of this award.”

In addition to serving as deputy chief of staff and a senior advisor to the Governor, Irving is chair of the Illinois Human Services Commission and co-chair of the Illinois Commission on the Elimination of Poverty. She holds a doctorate in English and American literature from New York University and a master’s degree from the University of Kent in Canterbury, England. She is an author, an urban policy activist, and in 2007 was the first visiting scholar at the Center for Race, Crime, and Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

"I'm honored by this award, but it's important everyone understand that the progress we've made in Illinois is due to the hard work of many people throughout the Quinn Administration and many supporters in the General Assembly," Irving said.  "We also have been fortunate to have been able to seek the advice of the national experts working with Models for Change, to partner with the state's juvenile justice leaders and advocates, and to make use of the latest research findings on how best to reach troubled juveniles.  

"Illinois has a long history of leadership in juvenile justice policy, beginning in 1899 when the Illinois legislature passed the Juvenile Court Act, which set a national standard toward rehabilitation," Irving said.  "Working together, we have an opportunity to set new standards in juvenile justice system reform and to show young people how to make the kinds of decisions that will lead to positive productive lives and safer communities."  

“Toni is a passionate and effective voice for the Models for Change values and principles,” said Diane Geraghty, founder and director of the Loyola Civitas ChildLaw Center at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, which is the lead entity for Models for Change in Illinois. “At every opportunity, she exhorts policy makers and practitioners to remember our shared goals: positive outcomes for youth and for communities. Her work will sustain Models for Change principles beyond the life of the initiative.”  

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About Illinois Models for Change

Illinois Models for Change is focusing on bringing about change in three areas:  (1) right-sizing the juvenile court’s jurisdiction, (2) expanding community-based alternatives to the confinement and formal processing of juveniles, and (3) addressing disproportionate minority contact with the juvenile justice system.  The work in all these areas is being carried out statewide, and five local demonstration projects are working with Models for Change to expand their array of alternatives to confinement.

About Models for Change

The Models for Change initiative is an effort to create successful and replicable models of juvenile justice system reform through targeted investments in key states. With long-term funding and support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Models for Change seeks to accelerate progress toward a more rational, fair, effective, and developmentally appropriate juvenile justice system.

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Models for Change is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, website operated by Justice Policy Institute.