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Right on Crime | August 30, 2011
Beginning in January of next year, judges sentencing juvenile offenders in Illinois will have an alternative to traditional incarceration: community based treatment.
Under legislation recently signed into law by Governor Pat Quinn, a sentencing decision for a juvenile will now consider myriad factors, and give judges the option to order direct treatment for the juvenile offender in his or her community.
This is a huge step forward for Illinois. It requires political courage and tenacity to weather criticisms and accusations of being “soft on crime” and pass such a bill, but the potential benefits are enormous. For example, when Missouri adopted a community based system of treatment for juvenile offenders, it was able to cut its costs per offender to half the national average for traditional incarceration—$126.19 for Missouri’s group homes, as compared to over $240 for the national average. Further, recidivism rates dropped to a miniscule fraction of the national rate—which can be as high as 55 or 70%. Missouri, in contrast, only puts 4.6% into an adult prison three years after receiving community based treatment.
The key in both programs is the community: such treatment options are small in size, more tailored to each juvenile and come with increasing levels of responsibility and accountability. Furthermore, families are more willing and able to be involved in the juvenile’s treatment and progress, given their close proximity to home.
Illinois will soon reap the rewards of having a more effective juvenile justice system, including a more productive work force, fewer tax dollars spent in this arena, and a safer state for all citizens.