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Juvenile Justice Needs Assessment Calls for Diversion, Restorative Justice 03.24.15
Juvenile Justice Needs Assessment Calls for Diversion, Restorative Justice

A comprehensive needs assessment of the Cook County Juvenile Court system has identified a groundswell of insider support for keeping kids out of a system that most believe is broken and ineffective.

The 2015 Juvenile Justice Needs Assessment is the result of research commissioned by Cook County Justice for Children and conducted in partnership by Adler University’s Institute on Public Safety & Social Justice and Roosevelt University’s Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation.

When compared to youth with comparable risk factors of adverse behavior and/or delinquency histories, but no juvenile court involvement, youth who appeared in court and received mild sentences (such as counseling, community service or restitution) were still 2.3 times more likely to incur adult criminal records; youth placed on probation were 14 times more likely to incur adult records; and, youth placed in a juvenile correctional institution were 38 times more likely to have adult records.

Moreover a recent study by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency finds that, in 2012, of the approximately 6,000 children referred to Cook County’s Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, well over 60% had been accused of nonviolent, less serious, offenses.

Drawing from surveys, focus groups and interviews with more than 200 Cook County Juvenile Court stakeholders, researchers found that system insiders believe there needs to be much more focus on true diversion away from the justice system and instead referring kids into community programs that offer mentoring and much needed services for them and their families.

However, study participants, including judges and court personnel, expressed hesitancy to divert kids out of the system due to a lack of awareness of, and trust in, existing community alternatives. Participants also expressed concerns that community alternatives are inadequately funded, resulting in a perception that they frequently lack the resources to properly serve youth.

“The vast majority of those we surveyed and interviewed told us that true reform of the juvenile justice system can’t and won’t happen unless the funding and resources are in place for viable community alternatives to detention,” said Elena Quintana, Ph.D., executive director of Adler University’s Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice. She is a member of the Chicago Public Safety Action Committee, which was convened by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to inform the city’s violence prevention programming, implementation, evaluation and resource allocation. She was also recently named to Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s justice reform commission.

Quintana noted that there is plenty of public money for this to happen, but that a strong commitment to justice re-investment, allocating justice dollars to effective community strategies rather than costly and ineffective strategies of confinement, will be needed for such a system shift to be successful. She also emphasized that elected leaders in Chicago, Cook County and the state of Illinois must be on board in order to implement recommendations aimed at overhauling the system and realigning its priorities.

“Based on these findings, it is paramount that we begin to build the case for a shift in both mindset and resources away from the system and into community programming,” Quintana said. “This is something that won’t happen overnight, but real and routine diversion of kids away from the existing system is a common-sense solution whose time has come.”

Such a shift in thinking and prioritizing could lead to fewer youth being detained at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, she said.

Read the 2015 Juvenile Justice Needs Assessment

About Adler University

Adler University educates students to engage the world and create a more just society. Established in 1952, it enrolls more than 1,400 students in master’s and doctoral programs for social change through its campuses in downtown Chicago and Vancouver, as well as an Online Campus. Adler University’s mission is to continue the pioneering work of Alfred Adler, the first community psychologist, by graduating socially responsible practitioners, engaging communities and advancing social justice.