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To the Editor: Time to get serious about juvenile crime

December 8, 2010

When I was inducted in June as president of the Illinois State Bar Association, I made a commitment to work closely with our association members to reform our woefully inadequate juvenile justice system. Sadly, our state spends far more annually to incarcerate youth (a staggering $100 million) than it does on youth prevention and intervention programming (a mere $3 million).

As we look toward the coming year, I propose a resolution to get serious about the problem of juvenile crime.

Illinois has two model programs that could be expanded. The Redeploy Illinois initiative receives state funds to provide comprehensive services to delinquent youth in their local communities. In the 23 counties that have Redeploy sites, it is working successfully, especially in St. Clair County where it has dramatically lowered the percentage of youths who are incarcerated. A relatively small increase in Redeploy funding could have a big impact.

The other state program is the Mental Health Juvenile Justice Initiative, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and administered by the Illinois Department of Human Services. Some 66 percent of youths in the juvenile justice system have a diagnosable psychiatric condition. Based on the program’s initial success—it grew from four to 34 counties—it should be expanded even further.

Shifting financial resources to community-based programming will be a real gift, not only to our youth but to our communities. It will produce better outcomes for youth in conflict, ultimately reduce the tax burden of incarcerating youth, and make our communities safer. It can be a win-win for everyone.

Mark D. Hassakis

President, Illinois State Bar Association, 2010-11

Mt. Vernon, Ill.

From the Dec. 8-14, 2010 issue

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