Officials Hold First-Ever Review of IL Pretrial Juvenile Detention … – Public News Service

Attorneys, state employees and juvenile justice reform advocates will gather virtually Friday to receive updates on county pretrial juvenile detention centers in Illinois, and discuss the findings.

In 2021, the Illinois Legislature authorized inspections at all 17 county-based detention centers across the state.

Luis Klein, executive director of the Juvenile Justice Initiative of Illinois, said the summit will, for the first time, evaluate the effectiveness of the state standards for the facilities.

“They’re incredibly important because there’s not a whole lot of oversight on these detention centers,” Klein explained. “There are standards, which they are expected to meet, but there’s no ombudsperson for these detention centers, and they really are allowed to police themselves.”

John Albright with the Illinois Department of Justice will present the report on the inspections. Participants will also hear from Richard Mendel with The Sentencing Project, on his study of youth incarceration. And Lisa Jacobs with the Loyola University School of Law will lead a discussion of the report.

Klein pointed out each of the 17 detention centers is not run or managed directly by the Department of Juvenile Justice, but by the counties where they are located. He emphasized the study is critical because, in past years, there has been a lack of transparency and lack of oversight over conditions in the centers.

“These reports are really important because it’s the first time that we really get a standard by which these detention centers are being judged,” Klein noted. “And then, a look at how are they doing, based on these basic and rudimentary standards.”

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South Dakota has been looking at ways to improve the state’s juvenile-justice system. Recommendations could be considered in the new legislative session, with mental health serving as one of the overarching themes.

Proposed solutions began to surface in recent months following the work of a task force last summer. One idea calls on the state to set aside $20 million to fund scholarships for those considering the mental-health field.

State Rep. Taylor Rehfeldt – R-Sioux Falls – served on the committee and said the state needs to address its shortage of counselors.

She said intervention could help troubled youth overcome Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACES.

“Ninety percent of juvenile detainees reported experiencing one or more traumatic event,” said Rehfeldt. “So, how that really links together is that when we have these ACES happen to kids – we’re intervening and then in the long term, hopefully, prevent these kids from entering into the juvenile-justice system.”

Rehfeldt, also a board member for the Center for the Prevention of Child Maltreatment, said adding licensed counselors is vital because the wait time to meet with a provider is four to six weeks.

The assistant majority leader acknowledged that while South Dakota has a budget surplus, there will be a lot of competing interests for state funding.

Another item that came from the committee was a resolution to continue researching childhood mental health and services available to kids across the state.

Rehfeldt said they’ve barely scratched the surface. For example, she said educators are being asked to juggle a lot with more students showing a need for mental-health intervention in a school setting.

“Not that they don’t want to help kids when they can,” said Rehfeldt, “but when they’re bogged down with all of those mental-health needs, it’s really hard to be an effective teacher and then also have your kids in your classroom be effective learners.”

She said the state needs to strike a balance in helping kids in and out of school when they’re in need of counseling while making sure staff members aren’t vulnerable to burnout.

Researchers who provided testimony suggest delaying action could create more ripple effects, with nearly 20% of South Dakota children having two or more Adverse Childhood Experiences.

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Utah is one of a few states where juveniles behind bars can earn college credit.

Utah’s Higher Education for Incarcerated Youth program lets young people study a wide range of subjects while in custody. It offers primarily virtual classes in collaboration with Utah Tech University, which provides the instructors for the courses.

Brett Peterson, director of Utah’s Division of Juvenile Justice and Youth Services, said focusing on rehabilitation and positive development is one of the most important things the state can be doing to help young offenders find a brighter future.

“Building that within our young people is the number one thing we can do to reduce recidivism,” said Peterson, “to improve public safety – and to just change young lives that we’re working with.”

Since the inception of the program in 2021, Peterson said hundreds have enrolled and taken classes. The most recent figures show the latest class with 76 students throughout all the state’s facilities, earning between them a total of 539 college credits.

Peterson said the program is too new to determine if it’s prompted anyone to continue their schooling or find jobs when they’re released, but he’s certain it’s having a positive impact.

According to one report, access to education in prison lowers the odds of repeat offenders by 43% and increases the likelihood of employment by 13%.

That study focused on adults, but Peterson said for young people – many of whom are first-generation high school graduates – taking the courses builds competency and fosters confidence.

“Almost without fail,” said Peterson, “when I talk to young people, if they’ve been involved in these courses, it is the first thing they tell me about. They are like, ‘Yeah, I’m taking a college class.’ Or, ‘I just got an A in a college class.'”

He added that a good education plays a key role in keeping kids out of the system in the first place.

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Redeploy Illinois is a community-based alternative to incarceration, which keeps kids in their home communities.

For decades, most youthful offenders in Illinois were sent to juvenile detention. But 17 years ago, state officials decided there is a better way to help kids headed down the wrong path.

The program, considered a model for other states, evaluates the young person’s life situation and provides social services to prevent further brushes with the law.

George Timberlake, a retired judge and former chair of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, who was active in developing the program, said it benefits the youth, their family and the community.

“It has been successful, not only to not make things worse for the kid in the justice system, but also to actually improve the chances that kid wasn’t going to simply learn how to be a crook in prison,” Timberlake explained.

Since 2005, Redeploy Illinois has provided services to more than 4,800 young people and their families with measurable results. And by this year, commitments to juvenile facilities were down by 65%.

Timberlake pointed out the kids who enter the juvenile justice system often struggle with such issues as poverty, substance use, mental health challenges or trauma, which can all contribute to risk-taking or criminal behavior.

“There is much more upfront assessment of, ‘What do we have here?’ And there’s much more of saying to the offender, not, ‘What did you do?’ But, ‘What happened to you?’ That kid’s history is the most important thing that we can discover through assessment,” Timberlake noted.

Timberlake added the previous hard-line approach to juvenile offenders used to mean a stretch in jail. But he argued, in most cases, it did not solve the problem, and often made it worse.

“I don’t care what they did, it’s, ‘Wait a minute, I’m in prison at this time.’ That changes a young person’s attitude, beliefs and approach to the world,” Timberlake contended. “We can do better than that.”

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February 27, 2023 at 06:59AM

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