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Illinois Legislature Approves Bill Encouraging Local Treatment for Juveniles When in Best Interest of the Youth and Their Communities

SPRINGFIELD, IL -- The Illinois General Assembly has approved legislation directing juvenile court judges to consider whether treatment in a youth's community would be a better option than sentencing the youth to incarceration in a state juvenile prison.

"Research has proven that juvenile offenders who receive individualized treatment in their home communities are less likely to repeat their mistakes than those who are sent to prison settings," said Elizabeth Clarke, President of the Juvenile Justice Initiative, a statewide advocacy coalition aimed at highlighting and supporting more effective, fair and rational juvenile justice policy and practice across the state.”

The Research on Pathways to Desistance Study, has found that expensive institutional placements produced no measurable results for youth convicted of serious offenses.  Supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Pathways is a long-term study of more than 1,300 juvenile offenders and has shown that institutional placement appears to have no advantage over probation in reducing rates of re-arrest or self-reported offending.

"This bill takes what we've learned from the Pathways research and makes sure it is put into practice in juvenile courtrooms throughout Illinois," Clarke said.  "Nothing in this bill ties a judge’s hands – rather, it will provide the court with more information so judges can make better decisions.

“If this bill becomes law, those youth that should be sent to Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) prisons for the safety of the community would still be sent to state prisons," Clarke added.  "But before making a commitment to DJJ, a judge would make a finding that secure confinement is necessary following a review of the youth's age, criminal history, mental health assessment and other factors.  

"Most judges likely do take these factors into consideration now," Clarke said.  "This bill is intended to make that routine in every juvenile courtroom."

Another aspect to the bill is the requirement that judges ensure all reasonable efforts have been made to keep a youth at home.  This finding is part of a series of steps courts must take in order to help Illinois access federal funds for placements for youth in the justice system.  

The Illinois Senate sent the bill to Gov. Pat Quinn by a vote of 51 to 0 on May 18.  The Illinois House earlier approved the bill on a vote of 73 to 25.  The text of HB 83 can be found at http://www.ilga.gov

HB 83 was sponsored in the Illinois House by Reps. Karen A. Yarbrough, D-Maywood; Robyn Gabel, D-Evanston; Elizabeth Hernandez, D-Cicero; Cynthia Soto, D-Chicago; and Derrick Smith, D-Chicago.  Illinois Senate sponsors were Sens. Annazette R. Collins, D-Chicago, and Heather A. Steans, D-Chicago.