IL Sees Significant Long-Term Decline in Youth Incarcerations


Illinois is seeing a steady drop in youth arrests and therefore, fewer adolescents locked up in juvenile and adult detention facilities. Josh Rovner, director of youth justice for The Sentencing Project, said the state can maintain progress by limiting the number of children under 18 sent to adult courts, which Rovner argued are not equipped to address their needs.

“It needs to build up alternatives to incarcerations,” Rovner contended. “Mentorship programs, family functional therapy, investing in the kinds of things that will get to the root causes of misbehaviors that lead a kid to get arrested in the first place.”

The arrest rate for people under 18 peaked in 1996 and has declined by more than 80% since then. Despite the decline in youth incarceration, Rovner pointed out it is important any reforms consider racial and ethnic disparities in Illinois’ justice system, which have existed for as long as records have been kept.

“Youth of color are treated more harshly at every point of contact with the justice system than their white peers are,” Rovner asserted. “That is true in Illinois, and it’s true elsewhere.”

Among young people referred to juvenile court, Black youths are 50% more likely to be detained.

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