Roadmap to Juvenile Facility Reform
On October 30, 2013, CFJC director Julie Biehl testified to the Illinois House Restorative Justice Committee. In light of recent reports highlighting issues of physical and sexual victimization of incarcerated children and deficient education and mental health services, her testimony outlined a framework for addressing conditions in youth facilities by providing advocacy and reducing population.
Highlights from the Report
One fundamental need of incarcerated youth is access to an attorney. The CFJC views the availability of representation as not only a right, but also as a practical means to help control facility population (improving staff-to-youth ratios) and helping to identify problems before they become systemic (avoiding future litigation costs). We cannot expect youth to be effective legal advocates for themselves. Additionally, incarcerated youth are uniquely vulnerable to abuse and understandably reluctant to report it, putting those experiencing mental health or learning disabilities at an even higher risk of victimization.
What can attorneys do for youth in the system?
-Reassure youth who are anxious during stay in facility and upon reentry
-Speed access to youth information about pending court process and proceedings
-Help to resolve conditions claims (i.e. issues with school, availability of medicine and counseling, general welfare issues) before problems become systemic in a facility
We can statistically describe the population of our youth prisons in a variety of ways, all of which suggest that we regulate the front door, revolving door, and back door of youth facilities to reduce the overall population of incarcerated youth.
Front Door: How youth come to be committed to DJJ facilities in the first place
Revolving Door: How youth can become trapped in a cycle of re-incarceration due to issues of re-entering the community
Back Door: Youth who linger in facilities longer than necessary, often due to community placement issues
Deinstitutionalization may at first appear to be a radical suggestion, but it’s an approach familiar to the mental health care and developmental disability communities. In one form or another, deinstitutionalization is often made an explicit part of negotiated solutions to juvenile incarceration lawsuits.