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Agreement Could Lead to Additional Improvements for Incarcerated Youth in Illinois

CHICAGO – An agreement between the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ) and the ACLU of Illinois may avert a potential expensive and lengthy court battle and lead to improvements in the treatment of young people in Illinois juvenile prisons.

On September 12, the ACLU of Illinois filed a class action complaint on behalf of the nearly 1,000 youth held in Illinois prisons and argued the youth do not receive minimally adequate mental health and education services; that they are placed in unwarranted solitary confinement; that the IDJJ staff fail to protect youth from each other, use excessive force and encourage youth to attack each other; and that youth are kept in prison beyond their anticipated release dates because appropriate community placement has not been found.

At the same time, the ACLU of Illinois and IDJJ agreed on a way to settle the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago.  If the agreement is accepted by the court, a court appointed panel of experts will investigate the allegations in the complaint and will develop -- with IDJJ and the ACLU of Illinois – a remedial plan to address any conditions, treatment, issues and services determined to be inadequate.  The plan would be implemented by IDJJ and monitored by the panel of experts and the ACLU of Illinois.

In a statement, the IDJJ said the agreement “will further the Department’s ongoing efforts to transform Illinois' juvenile justice system from a punitive, adult-focused model to a youth-focused, rehabilitative model of care.”

IDJJ said some of the concerns in the lawsuit are based on previous reports and that IDJJ has responded with improvements including physical renovations and removal of furniture considered a danger in suicide attempts, use of state-of-the-art screening and assessment tools, staff training and reduced solitary confinement.

"Today's announcement is another brick in the foundation we are laying for a new juvenile justice system in Illinois -- one that treats youth rather than warehousing them, and that provides the services youth need to successfully reintegrate back into their home communities," Director Arthur Bishop said. "With Governor Quinn's leadership, we are continuing to make great strides in reforming Illinois' juvenile justice system. This settlement will further our progress in improving the care youth receive in DJJ facilities."

Adam Schwartz, senior staff counsel at the ACLU of Illinois, characterized the agreement as “a starting point to providing adequate services and care, and fixing substandard conditions, at our state juvenile justice facilities.”

“A root of all these problems is that the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice lacks sufficient funding and staff to provide adequate services and conditions to the large number of youth committed to the Department’s custody,” Maja Eaton, a partner at Sidley Austin LLP who serves as the ACLU’s cooperating counsel in this case,” said in a statement.  “As a result, young people do not get access to appropriate mental health care or educational services, and they are placed in danger by the lack of safety inside the facilities.  Given the Department’s duty to rehabilitate the young people committed to its custody, improvements must be made quickly.”

One of the reports cited in the lawsuit is the 2010 “Report on the Behavioral Health Program for Youth Committed to the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice,” which contained the findings of a team of experts assembled by Illinois Models for Change and done at the request of IDJJ. For more information about that report, go here:

To read the class action complaint, go here:

To read the proposed consent decree, go here:

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