Children should not be kept behind bars, according to a new report that examines the ineffectiveness of youth prisons in Illinois and other states.
The research from The Annie E. Casey Foundation pulls together evidence of the failings of youth correctional facilities and recommends they all be closed.
Foundation president and CEO Patrick McCarthy says these prisons have high recidivism rates and do not improve long-term outcomes for youth.
"These institutions fail at protecting the community, they fail at turning young lives around, they are unconscionably expensive, they're prone to abuse, they defy reform and the bottom line is we have alternatives," he states.
The report notes that systemic maltreatment has been documented in youth prison facilities in nearly half of states since 2000, including Illinois.
The report recommends a four R strategy: Reduce the pipeline of youth into youth facilities; reform the corrections culture that wrongly assumes locking up youth improves safety; replace youth prisons with rehabilitative services; and reinvest in evidence-based solutions.
Elizabeth Clarke, president of the Juvenile Justice Initiative in Evanston, says Illinois already has started moving in that direction.
"Illinois has closed three of its state juvenile prisons and their detention has declined over the last 14 years in Illinois, so like the rest of the country, this is the direction we're moving in already," she points out.
Clarke says most of these detention facilities are in very rural communities and are out of sight, out of mind, but once the public is made aware of what happens there, and how ineffective they are, the public demands answers.
"Why are we paying over a hundred million statewide to support juvenile prisons that have poor outcomes?" she questions. "Why don't we take those very scarce public dollars and invest them in education and community alternatives that we know work more effective."