CHICAGO — Illinois houses juvenile offenders in eight detention centers across the state, including one in downstate Murphysboro that is only a third full, has little outdoor recreation space and costs $84,000 a year per youth to operate. It has nearly 100 staffers for its 53 inmates.
Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposal to close that Murphysboro detention center and another in Joliet is winning the praise of judicial reform advocates, who say the move will not only save the state money but allow young offenders to stay home and receive treatment. Research, they say, shows that would be more effective at reducing recidivism without compromising public safety.
On the other side are local officials and the union representing workers at the facilities, who say the centers provide needed services to troubled youth and valuable jobs to struggling communities.
Quinn, whose aides say he favors moving completely away from such juvenile detention, is mirroring a national trend toward shifting young offenders out of facilities and keeping them home for treatment and services that providers say have been proven to keep them out of trouble by addressing underlying problems such as mental illness, substance abuse and educational setbacks.
More than 50 juvenile facilities in 17 states and the District of Columbia closed between 2007 and 2011, according to a report last fall from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. New York state closed 14 facilities, while Texas closed nine.
“We’ve been throwing good money after bad outcomes here,” said Rick Velasquez, executive director of Youth Outreach Services, a Chicago-based nonprofit that provides counseling and other services. “We over-rely on detention for kids when it’s totally unnecessary.”
Eventually, Quinn would want to see Illinois’ juvenile facilities become extinct, his aides say.
“Ideally, we’d like to reach a point where juvenile facilities are no longer necessary and all of our youth receive the supports and services necessary to live healthy, productive lives in the community,” said Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson.
The state’s eight juvenile centers house fewer than 1,100 young people at an average cost of about $85,000 a year per youth. Advocates say they can provide better results for less than $12,000 a year with programs including intensive counseling for the kids and their families.
Illinois created the Department of Juvenile Justice in 2006 with the goal of moving away from punishment and toward treatment for young people. Previously, the juvenile justice system was part of the adult corrections department. Closing the two facilities and investing in alternatives to detention is a step toward making good on that goal, officials said.
“These closures will help the Department of Juvenile Justice refocus its mission and resources from detention to prevention and diversion programs with proven track records of success,” Anderson said. The DJJ spends 89 percent of its budget on operating the eight facilities.
In McLean County, juvenile court services staff currently handle a caseload of about 400 offenders, with 111 new juvenile petitions filed last year.
First Assistant State’s Attorney Jane Foster has proposed a juvenile drug court as a means to keep young offenders out of detention centers.
“A specialty court for juvenile offenders with substance abuse and mental health issues will save money in the short term, but there’s even greater savings when we help these juveniles avoid detention and become productive citizens,” said Foster.
The new program would allow offenders to remain in the community as long as they follow the rules, said Foster.
Edith Brady-Lunny contributed to this report.