A federal government official, state officials, judges and local leaders met in East St. Louis Wednesday to discuss and learn about Redeploy Illinois, a state program that works to keep juvenile offenders out of detention centers.
Participants in the program that was launched in Illinois in 2004 also attended the event to share their experiences in the program.
Melodee Hanes, the acting administrator for the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, praised the program.
"Children should not be locked up or incarcerated for minor offenses," Hanes said. "Children should never be locked up with adults for any offense. The minute a child sets foot in any kind of lockup the likelihood they will be back in a lockup as an adult goes up and their chances for success in any kind of life or future goes down."
The Redeploy Illinois program in the metro-east is administered by Children's Home+Aid and has served 133 youths in St. Clair County since 2004 and 65 youths in Madison County since the program was launched in 2008. Statewide the program has served 1,567 youths over the past six years, resulting in keeping more than 880 juvenile offenders out of prison and in an intensive program that provides a variety of services including counseling, life skills training, drug abuse therapy, career planning, individual living skills, employment skills, support groups and team building.
Curtis Warner, a juvenile who was assigned to Redeploy Illinois instead of incarcerated, spoke to the group. He has participated in the program since December 2010.
"It's an honor to represent the teens who have returned to their communities with the opportunity to learn and grow," he said. "Redeploy Illinois has greatly impacted youth and families in our community."
The average cost to incarcerate a juvenile for a year in Illinois is $85,000. The cost for one juvenile to participate in Redeploy Illinois instead of heading to prison is $3,000 to $10,000 a year with the average being around $5,000. The program is funded by an annual state appropriation of $2.4 million.
Juvenile offenders charged with Class X felonies are not eligible for the program. Those convicted of violent crimes are not likely to be selected for participation in the program.
Bill Houlihan, state director for U.S. Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Springfield, said, "This is an issue that (Durbin) really deeply believes in. We haven't done the reauthorization (for federal funds) yet and are hoping to get the reauthorization in June. This program saves lives and saves money and you can't say that about a lot of programs. We have the opportunity to change lives in a good way and that's what we want to do."
St. Clair County Judge Walter Brandon oversees the juvenile court and ultimately makes the decision whether an offender would succeed in the Redeploy Illinois program. He works with prosecutors, public defenders and service providers through the program to decide whether an offender goes into detention or back into the community under the Redeploy Program.
"I have the opportunity to bring everybody together for another chance, another look and when we can get the family members to participate it really makes a difference," he said. "I remember before Redeploy when I had no other choice but to send some kids in to detention. It has allowed me to consider and think even harder about giving a kid a second, a third, maybe even a fourth chance. Yes, Redeploy works and I am thankful it is there."
When Redeploy was first launched, the program's developers expected an average 25 percent reduction in the number of juveniles entering the system.
"It wasn't a 25 percent reduction, it was a 52 percent reduction of kids going to detention," said Judge George Timberlake, Chair of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission and retired judge of the 2nd Judicial Circuit. "That's 52 percent who stay out of prison. It's about public safety and it's about giving these kids a chance. Redeploy has been successful in every county we've gone in to."
For juveniles who are sent to detention centers, 50 percent of them will end up locked up again, according to statistics from the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission.
The recidivism rate for juveniles in the Redeploy Illinois program is 21 percent. In St. Clair County, there has been a 90 percent overall reduction of juveniles sent to prison. In 2005, 86 were incarcerated; in 2006, 66 were incarcerated; in 2007, 21 headed to detention; in 2008, 11 were incarcerated; in 2009, 16 were sent to prison, in 2010, 11 were sent to prison and in 2011, 9 were sentenced to detention. So far in 2012, 11 have been sent to detention.
The juveniles not sent to prison since 2005 represents $6.5 million in savings to taxpayers in St. Clair County in funds that were not spent keeping a juvenile in prison. Statewide, the more than 880 juveniles who went into the Redeploy program instead of prison saved taxpayers more than $40 million in what it would have cost to send them to prison.
"What we don't want to do is drive more youth into long-term facilities," said Candice Jones, executive director of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission. "Spending money on the front end to get the services they need to keep them in the community and help them become productive citizens is what Redeploy Illinois does."