Illinois has long been a pioneer in juvenile justice, creating the nation’s first juvenile court as long ago as 1899. But in recent years, Illinois hasn’t looked so much like a pioneer anymore. The wooden wheels have been coming off the covered wagon.
A recent report indicates that more than half the youths incarcerated by the Illinois Department of Justice wind up back behind bars. If the original pioneers failed at that rate, they never would have made it west of the Mississippi.
Unlike their adult counterparts, Illinois’ juvenile prisons — with one exception — are at or below capacity. The state has been successful in diverting young offenders to other programs. So why hasn’t there been a bigger effort to close one or more juvenile prisons?
The Juvenile Justice Initiative noted that over 50 juvenile prisons have been closed in 18 states in the past four years. Number closed in Illinois: zero.
An attempt by Gov. Pat Quinn in 2009 to close the underused Illinois Youth Center at Pere Marquette, a facility for low-risk female offenders, was dropped in the face of opposition. Now Quinn has included the Illinois Youth Center at Murphysboro among seven state facilities statewide — and the only juvenile prison — targeted for closing.
The following is another op-ed – this one by Julie Biehl about why the state should close several youth prisons.