May 1, 2012

Juvenile Justice Initiative Responds to Legislative Panel’s Advice to Stop Consolidation of State’s Expensive Youth Prison System

CHICAGO — Elizabeth Clarke, President of the Juvenile Justice Initiative, released the following statement in response to the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability’s advisory opinion and tied 5-5 vote rejecting Gov. Quinn’s decision to close the state’s youth prison in Joliet.

Even though the state’s costly youth prison system has more than 700 empty beds and the state’s unbalanced budget is bright red, this Commission’s advice is to spend more money the state doesn’t have on a wasteful, inefficient system. Sen. Matt Murphy was correct when he noted that the state cannot continue to support eight separate juvenile prisons for a population that is rapidly decreasing (now under 990 from about 1,600 seven years ago). Illinois must join with the rest of the nation, where 18 states have closed more than 50 juvenile prisons since 2007 – based on the falling juvenile crime rate, and the increased awareness that less costly community based alternatives are far
more effective at deterring youth crime.

This legislative commission’s action is advisory only, and now Gov. Quinn should proceed with closing the youth prisons in Joliet and Murphysboro); and commit to additional consolidation in the coming fiscal year.

This recommendation against closure ignores the fact that the state’s juvenile prison population has dropped dramatically from 1,603 in FY 05 to 990 in FY 12. In the last five years, the annual cost of incarcerating youth has jumped from $71,000 to more than $92,000 per youth. If this Commission has its way, those costs will go higher and higher. The cost at Murphysboro – where about two-thirds of the prison is empty — is more than $142,000 per youth.

The state’s eight youth prisons could be consolidated into a 4-prison system and still house all of the juveniles in prison today. The lowered overhead would produce millions in cost savings that could help rehabilitate youth in their communities at much lower cost and with greater success.

Ironically, the Commission’s recommendation was made despite a recent national poll showing that 89 percent of the public strongly favors rehabilitation and treatment approaches, such as counseling, education, treatment, restitution, and community service. The public recognizes that imprisoning youth far away from their families doesn’t work. It doesn’t reduce future offending. It doesn’t make our communities safer. It doesn’t put youth on a path toward becoming contributing members of our society. Unfortunately, the Commission ignored these facts and went in the opposite direction. The Juvenile Justice Initiative applauds those Commission members who stood up for fiscal common sense and for sound investment in rehabilitation of our youth. We thank Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, who is Commission co-chair; Sen. Matt Murphy, Sen. Donne Trotter and Rep. Elaine Nekritz and Rep. Mike Tryon, for their votes for the resolution to close Joliet Youth Center.