Peters hails plans to overhaul juvenile justice system

Sen. Robert Peters (D-13th), who has focused his state legislative career on issues of incarceration and child welfare, supports the state’s plans to begin placing minors in the justice system in smaller, community-based detention centers that focus more on providing intervention services and education.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton announced plans to overhaul the juvenile justice system during a news conference Friday in Chicago. A four-year blueprint split into three phases would move the Department of Juvenile Justice from “an antiquated theory of juvenile incarceration”  in larger holding facilities into what the governor called a “21st century transformative model.”

Phase 1 is to start immediately with increased investment in community-based interventions and re-entry programs. Phase 2, starting next year, involves housing incarcerated youths in smaller, dorm-like facilities closer to their homes. Phase 3, also set to begin next year, would involve continued investment into communities and the transfer of prison-like facilities from DJJ to the Illinois Department of Corrections for housing overflow adult prison populations. 

Sen. Robert Peters (D-13th)

Capitol News Illinois

"We’re going to move people out of these juvenile detention centers and into community residential services," Peters said. "What you will have is people who won’t have to be sent away. They’ll be able to be closer to a community while also presented with wraparound services. They’re going to be given a lot of support. There’s going to be financial support for victims’ services. There’s just a holistic approach that’s already kind of been in the works but is now going to another level."

Peters said the decentralization is furthermore smart policy because of the significant decrease in the total number of youths in custody: from 282 in January 2019 to 97 by June 2020.

Pritzker, however, noted Black children still make up more than 70% of those in DJJ care despite being only 15% of the under-18 population in Illinois. Outside of claims of systemic racism, another point of contention is that the current system just doesn’t work. The governor said that between 2010 and 2018, an average of 55% of juvenile offenders released from DJJ custody eventually returned.

According to DJJ’s seven-page overview, a benefit of the transformative model would be increased positive outcomes while also saving DJJ and IDOC money.

“This model does not starve the children or employees in the juvenile justice system of resources,” DJJ Director Heidi Mueller said. “Instead, this model recognizes that the people we serve matter, and the people who are doing the serving matter.”

A theme that permeated throughout the news conference was that the current model of criminal justice attempts to treat the symptoms of crime. The new model Pritzker and the DJJ are proposing will aim to tackle the roots of crime. Historically, Black communities in Illinois have been especially impacted by negative factors that increase the crime rate like discriminatory policies, segregation, disinvestment and gun violence.

“I’m especially excited about how this model will intentionally invest in victim services in communities hit hardest by violence, acknowledging that our current system does little to directly support victims, and that more than 90 percent of the kids in our system were victims before they were offenders,” Mueller said.

For his part, Peters said Mueller "is really committed to the idea of investing in young people, giving them the services that they need."

The transformation of the juvenile justice system in Illinois is part of a broader push by Pritzker’s administration to institute social justice reforms, culminating in the Justice, Equity, and Opportunity Initiative established by executive order last year that coordinates justice reform through Stratton’s office.

Other initiatives that have had potentially wide-ranging socioeconomic consequences for Illinois include legalized adult-use cannabissocial equity licenses for dispensaries and equity grants for investing in disadvantaged communities.

“We cannot continue to be a country that criminalizes the children who need the most help,” Stratton said. “We need to help our young people heal, to redirect their energy to realize their potential and foster their dreams.”

Peters agrees: "I can’t express this part enough: mental health development, training, mentorship — the whole gambit of helping you develop not only your brain and your body and to help you go through trauma and help prepare you for what comes after the juvenile justice system. I think this really sets us up for some really good criminal justice reform work throughout the year."

The General Assembly traditionally reconvenes for a short "veto session" in October and November. Peters, an appointed freshman senator who narrowly won renomination in March for a full term in Springfield, has pushed legislation to abolish cash bail. Among his legislative accomplishments are the introduction of surveys for former youth in state care on their experiences and workforce development and apprenticeship programs for youth in care.

Raymon Troncoso reported from Springfield. Capitol News Illinois reporter Peter Hancock contributed. Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. The Herald is a member of the Illinois Press Association.


via Hyde Park Herald

August 5, 2020 at 09:15AM

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