Faculty & Staff

Changing the Criminal Injustice System, Part 2: Offering Detained Youth a Connection

Cook County (Ill.) Sheriff Tom Dart–who oversees the largest single-site jail in the United States–announced August 6 that his office is establishing an Office of Mental Health Policy and Advocacy, as well as a 24-hour mental health hotline for Cook County detainees and their families. Dart has been an outspoken voice on systemic mental health and justice reform; the Adler School Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice has worked with his office and others to implement new approaches within the Cook County system. 

Below is part two of an article about those initiatives that was published in our summer 2012 magazine Gemeinschaftsgefühl.

The IPSSJ [Adler School Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice] developed a Violence Prevention Seminar Series that IPSSJ Executive Director and clinical/community psychologist Elena Quintana, Ph.D., holds with boys detained at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. It takes place with a group of Adler School students and volunteers from CeaseFire [now called Cure Violence], the globally recognized violence prevention organization profiled in the acclaimed 2011 documentary “The Interrupters.”

Together, they provide programming for up to 60 juvenile detainees a week—on confronting violence, changing violent thinking and behavior, and facing fallout of the “no snitching” rule in many urban neighborhoods that perpetuates the behavior that leads youth to juvenile detention and jail.

Working closely with the detention center, IPSSJ has also implemented a Volunteer Visitors Program that brings trained Adler School student volunteers to the detention center for once-a-week visits with detainees, many of whom receive no visitors.

“The longer a child is held in a correctional facility, the greater his or her chance for recidivism,” Quintana says. “The fewer visits a child has while he or she is in detention, the greater chance for recidivism. We’re taking children who have already been traumatized and making things worse.”

Philippe Magloire, Executive Director of Programs and Professional Services at the detention center, agrees. “Clearly there are structural issues. There are economic issues. There are educational issues.

“But when there is such disproportionate minority confinement, there’s something wrong,” he says, referring to recent analysis showing that 96 percent of the 5,800 juveniles admitted to Cook County detention each year are minorities. “We’re failing these kids.”

Magloire sees both short- and long-term value in the programs that IPSSJ has implemented. The visitation program gives kids who would otherwise be disconnected a connection, he says.

“They realize that there are people out there who care for them. Feeling disconnected and disenfranchised leads potentially to acting out behavior within the facility, but also when they’re released, which then contributes to repeated detentions.

“In 2011, 65 percent of the kids we saw here repeated, meaning they came back at least once if not more. And while we didn’t do a data analysis on this, I suspect that if you were to take a cohort of kids over a three-year period of time and did a real recidivism study, that rate would be in the 80 percent range.”

Another ambitious IPSSJ project still in the planning phase—the Efficient Service Need Tracking System—holds potential for stopping the escalation of juvenile offenders’ criminal careers. The concept is based on a study in Orange County, Calif., that found that about 8 percent of youth committed 58 percent of crimes.

“If you can identify and work with that 8 percent, you’re investing your resources where they are going to have the biggest impact,” Quintana says.

In Chicago, identifying youth at highest risk for re-incarceration and violent offenses would require Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Police Department, and Juvenile Probation to share information regarding Uniform Disciplinary Code violations, arrests, and criminal records.

Coordinating various agencies’ efforts, collaboration, and cooperation is high priority for—and special expertise—of the IPSSJ. For example, the Institute recently took the lead on the Cook County Youth Task Force, which seeks to create a protocol for reviewing and making empirically-based changes to policies that affect youth. Task force members include judges, police, states attorneys, top juvenile justice and CPS administrators, social service agencies, and other advocates.

Each day, up to 275 juvenile detainees are held at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. About 1 in every 6 of them receives no visitors for a months at a time. Learn more about becoming a trained “Visiting Volunteer” to visit with these youth. The program is a joint collaboration of the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center and the Adler School Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice. For more, email IPSSJ@adler.edu.