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Watchdog Reports Some Progress in Reform of Illinois Juvenile Prison System and Identifies Additional Steps Needed

In a year-end assessment of Illinois’ juvenile prison system, the state’s top independent prison watchdog reported the state has made some progress in making reforms inside the prisons but also pointed out several deficiencies, including many staff vacancies and youth distrust in the grievance procedures.

The report by the John Howard Association (JHA) warned that unless the governor, legislators and other key leaders make a unified effort to answer budget constraints and lower juvenile population levels that hinder reform, “Illinois will continue to spend large amounts of money on an incomplete system, undermine public safety, and most importantly negatively impact outcomes for youth in conflict with law.”

The John Howard Association is a 110-year-old non-profit monitoring Illinois adult and juvenile prisons, and preparation of the report was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change initiative.

According to JHA’s report, the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), which was created in 2006, has made progress in implementing programs that it believes will reduce recidivism, but JHA observed that DJJ has no control over the number of youth committed to DJJ by the courts or returned to DJJ due to parole violations.  About 7 of 10 youth in DJJ in FY 2011 were non-violent offenders or technical parole violators.

“Constrained by limited resources and funding, DJJ is steadily improving operations, programming, education, and reentry services,” the report states.  “Even with the progress that has been made, there are still areas in need of significant improvement or complete transformation, such as use of confinement for non-violent offenses and data tracking in all areas of operation.”

To read the full report, go to

Rob Wildeboer, a reporter with Chicago’s public radio station WBEZ, recently talked about the report with Chris Bernard, Director of the John Howard Association’s Juvenile Justice Project.  To listen to a 7-minute outtake of their conversation, go to

To read a Models for Change Reform Progress article about the work of Bernard and the JHA, go to:

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