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Separate state juvenile and adult corrections

Friday, October 07, 2005
Chicago Tribune
by George A. Ranney Jr. and Paula Wolff

Each week in Illinois, hundreds of criminals begin serving long prison sentences in our state prisons. For most of them, this is not a new experience. They've been here before, and a good number of them will come back again. Forty-four thousand will be released this year alone.

If they grew up in Illinois, chances are they first encountered the Department of Corrections as teenagers. Unfortunately for them and for all of us, the state's services for juvenile offenders are so lacking that most young offenders don't stand a chance of turning around their lives.

Well-trained staff combined with drug treatment, education and career counseling can make a difference in young lives. They succeed in many other states, but youth corrections in Illinois is too much like adult corrections. Young prisoners learn how to be career criminals.

The Sept. 22 editorial "Grant youth prisons a divorce" correctly called for reform of juvenile justice in Illinois. It is time to separate the juvenile corrections division from adult corrections and permit the trained leaders of juvenile corrections to devote their energies to rehabilitating the hundreds of kids in state custody.

The rehabilitation model does work. The Illinois recidivism rate of 48 percent for youth compares unfavorably with our neighbor, Missouri, whose separate department for juveniles has an 8 percent rate. This is similar to many of the other 39 separate juvenile corrections agencies around the country.

If we can change the system and turn these kids around, the public will be safer and the region will be a better place to raise a family and run a business.

This spring, the Illinois Senate passed legislation to do just that. The Illinois House should do the same in the fall veto session, and help give those kids an honest career path outside of prison walls.

George A. Ranney Jr., President and CEO (and) Paula Wolff, Senior Executive
Chicago Metropolis 2020

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