Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=155034
Story Retrieval Date: 5/23/2013 8:37:18 PM CST
One of the biggest questions facing the commission is whether the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice should invest in preventative methods or rehabilitation.
Timberlake was one of 19 people Gov. Pat Quinn appointmented to the 25-member commission earlier earlier this week. The federally mandated commission advises the governor and General Assembly on issues concerning the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice.
“The chairman has a lot on his plate right now,” said Wayne Straza, vice chair of the commission. “Funds are lacking to provide services and aftercare for juveniles of concern or juveniles already in the system.”
The commission’s funding had been cut by 75 percent in the last two decades to $2.4 million in 2010, Straza said.
The number of new admissions to youth facilities statewide has decreased from 1,729 in 2004 to 1,314 in 2008, according to state figures. Timberlake credited the decline in large part to Illinois Redeploy, a program created in 2004. Under the program, which now serves 21 counties, funding for social services was distributed in an effort to reduce incarceration rates by 25 percent.
The program offers an additional fiscal incentive.
According to Timberlake, it costs $78,000 for Illinois to incarcerate a juvenile for one year. However, three to six months of multisystem therapy costs only between $6,800 and $10,000 per youth. A Redeploy Illinois 2008 report estimated that Illinois saved over $19 million since the inception of the preventative program by incarcerating 382 fewer youths over that time period.
“We (currently) rely too much on incarceration,” Timberlake said. “We’re going to spend money on research-based therapeutic approaches to changing behavior. That’s what works.”
But Anders Lindall, a spokesman for the Illinois division of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a union that represents state employees,said more money is needed for the detention facilities.
“Kids coming into the facilities now are kids that have had many chances,” Lindall said. “The population, although somewhat smaller than in past years, is a population that has more needs, more challenges, and to respond requires more resources on the part of the facilities.”
According to a 2008 report by the Illinois’ Auditor General, in 2007 and 2008 the Department of Juvenile Justice received almost $3 million from the Illinois General Revenue Fund for expenses related to hiring front- line staff for detention facilities, including teachers, social workers, security staff and psychologists. Yet only $153,000 of the total was spent, so the rest had to be returned to the state.
During that same time 117 front- line staff left employment, no new personnel were added and the department paid over $7 million in overtime compensation. Management’s explanation for the loss of funding? The new front-line job classifications took in excess of two years to finalize.
“The test of this commission,” Lindall said, “will be how it can use its mandate to rebuild the facilities, to restore their programs and to reinvest in the necessary staff.”
Cook County Public Guardian Robert Harris, who represents many children in the juvenile justice system,. said the issue requires a balanced approach.
“The concept of prevention is certainly the most ideal way to go, in the long run,” Harris said. “But unless we are willing to throw away those kids who are already involved, I would never say that all of [the effort] should go into prevention.”
Vice Chair Straza said that low funding makes the balancing act difficult.
“We’d like to get $20 million a year to distribute,” Straza said, “but I don’t think that’s going to happen in this economy. Januari Smith, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, said that due to the financial crisis, it was doubtful that any agency would receive significantly more funding.