January 4, 2012
After studying ways to increase the likelihood that young offenders will succeed after their release from state youth prisons, the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission issued a report that said Illinois’ juvenile reentry system is broken, but not beyond repair. As part of the process, commissioners observed 237 parole board hearings and reviewed the records of 386 youth whose parole was revoked between December 1, 2009 and May 31, 2010.
According to a fact sheet summarizing the report, the system:
(1) does little to prepare youth and families for life outside prison walls; (2) youth on parole rarely receive the needed services or school linkages and too often return to expensive youth prisons due to technical parole violations; and (3) Prisoner Review Board (PRB) parole revocation proceedings are largely perfunctory hearings where the youth's right to a lawyer and due process are not protected.
That said, the authors write:
By instituting a major restructuring of the system, the state could reduce costs, improve public safety, protect the constitutional rights of the juveniles and increase the likelihood that young offenders will become responsible adults [italics in original].
Among other things, the study recommended that:
- Members of the parole board receive training in juvenile-specific topics, such as adolescent development, what works in substance abuse treatment for teens, the impact of trauma, and the range of services available to juveniles after release.
- The parole board should use specific criteria to determine whether youth should be released, and youth should receive their decisions in writing. In addition, the parole board should establish criteria that ensure youth are reviewed for release more often than once a year, and that youth can request such a hearing.
- Youth on parole should be supervised by "aftercare specialists" trained to help them obtain schooling, treatment, and employment. Such a program is already in place in Cook County, IL, with promising results.