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Illinois Can Do Better by Investing in Youth

Incarceration Costs 29X More Than Redeploy-webThere’s a way that Illinois can do more to make sure young people thrive and our communities are safer.

As the Fiscal Policy Center report, Invest in Youth — Not Prisons, makes clear, Illinois would help young people and save money by directing state resources toward community-based programs instead of incarcerating young offenders.

Each year Illinois spends heavily to incarcerate youth who come into conflict with the law. But young people who are placed in prison often don’t do well and end up re-offending after they’re released. Fortunately, we can change the course for thousands of Illinois youth by investing in communities, schools, and their future, instead of continuing to pour millions of taxpayer dollars into an ineffective, punitive system.

Although Illinois has been moving in the right direction by reducing the use of youth incarceration, the state has continued to fund a costly juvenile justice system at the expense of public safety, draining resources needed for important investments in prevention and rehabilitation services.

It costs 29 times more money to incarcerate one youth at Illinois Youth Centers (IYC)—youth prisons operated by the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ)—than it does to divert one youth to a community-based alternative program. In fiscal year 2016, the average cost to incarcerate one youth was about $172,000 annually, compared to an average of just $6,000 per youth through Redeploy Illinois.

Redeploy Illinois—a community-based alternative to incarceration— and many of the programs intended to improve public safety and help rehabilitate youth have gone without funding, leaving more young people at risk of entering the juvenile justice system which hurts families and drives up state costs.

Even with the passage of the “stopgap” budget at the end of June, uncertainty remains for many programs that have scaled back while others have closed altogether.

Illinois can do better to improve the lives of young people and keep our neighborhoods safe by investing in alternative programs in communities that need it the most. Black youth are incarcerated at far higher rates in Illinois than white youth. And the disparities have grown despite reduced incarceration in Illinois. Although black youth represent 17 percent of Illinois’ youth population (ages 12-17), in 2015 they made up 69 percent of youth incarcerated at youth prisons across the state, up from 56 percent in 2006. White youth make up 54 percent of the Illinois youth population (ages 12-17), but only 19 percent of all youth incarcerated, down from a third in 2006.

These disparities show that Illinois needs to do more to make sure community-based programs benefit all justice-involved youth, regardless of their race or ethnicity. Illinois must make sure community-based 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.

If Illinois moved away from spending on large prisons that are harmful and ineffective, the state’s juvenile justice system could be transformed—giving youth a better chance of leading productive lives and helping communities to thrive. Here are the steps that need to be taken for that to happen:

  • Invest in community-based responses to juvenile delinquency, not prisons.
  • Fully support and expand Redeploy Illinois.
  • Create a state youth investment fund so money saved from reducing incarceration goes toward community-based approaches.
  • Support and improve educational and employment opportunities for youth who are disconnected from both school and work.

For more information about the high cost of incarceration and FPC’s recommendations for improving the lives of Illinois’ youth, please see our report.

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