Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform CORE ISSUE: Reform of juvenile justice system to identify and divert at-risk youth.
According to a report prepared for the government by the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, almost 9 out of 10 youth who spend time in Illinois youth prisons end up going back to prison within three years of their release, with Cook County as the highest percentage out of ten counties (Smith 2014). This current study was conducted to increase understanding of the perceived strengths and weaknesses in the juvenile justice system. The more we know about the outcomes of detention and court involvement on youth and their overall neurological and social development, the better we can move forward. Further, our understanding that the majority of court involved youth have experienced complex trauma and have unmet basic needs is important as we consider the best options for rehabilitation and their overall success. This research allows us to increase our understanding further by tapping into the knowledge of juvenile justice stakeholders in order to identify best practices and opportunities that promote positive transformation for youth, families, and communities. This report documents the responses and identifies existing attributes, best practices and challenges in the Cook County Juvenile Court and in the community. The data lead to a wide range of recommendations for change that will increase the success of youth in Cook County, from those that can be implemented in the court and in the community, to recommendations that will result in a paradigm shift in the system and in the ways that we think about youth and juvenile justice. The findings point toward an increase in education and coordination system-wide, with the court taking on a greater role in promoting prevention strategies aimed at keeping youth from entering the system in the first place. Most significantly, the findings point toward the need to keep youth in their communities with a strong emphasis on the system utilizing, building and cooperating with communities to both stem the flow of youth into the system, and for the young people who are in the system, to create a solid strategy to reintegrate youth successfully back into their communities.
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