PI Original Ellyn Fortino Friday August 19th, 2016, 12:24pm

Youth Incarceration Costs Illinois 29 Times More Than Community-Based Alternatives, Report Shows

A new report finds that youth incarceration costs Illinois 29 times more than the community-based alternative, Redeploy Illinois.

Illinois should spend less on juvenile justice facilities and more on community-based alternatives to youth incarceration, a new report argues.

Youth incarceration costs Illinois 29 times more than the community-based alternative, Redeploy Illinois, according to the findings in a report by the Fiscal Policy Center at Voices for Illinois Children.

Last fiscal year, it cost the state an average of $172,000 to incarcerate one youth, compared to an average of $6,000 for one youth in the Redeploy Illinois program, the report reads.

Community-based programs are not only cheaper than youth incarceration, they are also more effective at reducing youth recidivism, Voices for Illinois Children argues.

"Now is the time for Illinois to invest in high-quality, community-based alternative programs that have been proven to make our communities safer and help youth succeed," report author Leslie Helmcamp said in a statement. "Illinois can create more effective alternatives that improve public safety, promote youth success and keep families together."

As of July, there were 395 youth in prisons operated by the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, according to the report. Since 2007, the state has reduced the number of youth in IDJJ prisons by 62 percent, the report states. 

While the child advocacy group applauded the state for taking steps over the past decade to reduce youth incarceration, the report's author took Illinois officials to task for continuing to fund "a costly juvenile corrections system at the expense of public safety" and "squandering resources needed for investments in prevention and rehabilitation services."  The budget impasse, the report adds, also left many youth intervention programs with "too little money to be effective."

The organization is pressing lawmakers to take the following actions: invest in community-based responses to juvenile delinquency over prisons; fully support and expand Redeploy; create a dedicated state youth investment fund through which resources gained from reducing incarceration are invested in community-based initiatives; and strengthen educational and employment opportunities for youth.

"Illinois' youth have enormous potential, but the state is not doing enough to make sure our young people have what they need to thrive," Voices for Illinois Children President Tasha Green said in a statement. "Instead of spending money on youth prisons, Illinois should invest in a well-targeted and sustained effort to strengthen communities and support youth development through education and skill development, mental health programming and other services that improve a youth's chances for success."

A community-focused approach to decreasing youth incarceration is also central to reducing racial disparities in the state's juvenile justice system, according to the group. 

Black youth represent 69 percent of all incarcerated Illinois youth, despite making up just 17 percent of the state's overall youth population, the report states. 

By comparison, white youth make up 54 percent of the Illinois youth population, yet account for only 19 percent of the state's incarcerated youth.

"The racial disparities of youth benefiting from reduced incarceration show that Illinois needs to do more to make sure community-based programs benefit all justice-involved youth, regardless of their race or ethnicity," the report says. "Illinois can make sure community alternative approaches reach black and Hispanic youth, especially in areas of concentrated poverty where scarce resources exist. Investment in these communities, along with a sustained effort to promote cultural and linguistic competency in programming, are the first steps to promote success for youth of color."

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