Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2012, 2:27 pm

Letter: Closing juvenile prisons makes sense for Illinois

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Illinois has made tremendous progress over the past decade in cutting the number of youth held in state prisons, by investing in alternatives that improve public safety, decrease recidivism and cut costs for taxpayers.

Gov. Pat Quinn wants to close a number of state facilities including two juvenile correctional facilities. This would be another step in the right direction.

State lawmakers are expected to decide in the next two weeks whether to go along with the plan.

The case for closing the juvenile facilities is particularly strong.

The state's investment in and commitment to community based alternatives to incarceration, like Redeploy Illinois, has helped to cut the youth prison population from 1,900 to less than 980 over the past 10 years. From 2005 to 2011, Redeploy Illinois has saved the state at least $40 million in incarceration costs. Thanks to these interventions, youth prisons are operating well below capacity.

Closing the juvenile prisons in Joliet and Murphysboro, which is already empty, could save t $14 million in the current fiscal year and an estimated $27 million annually. It costs taxpayers over $85,000 annually to house a youth in prison. But it's not just about the dollars saved; juvenile prisons have an unacceptably high failure rate with half the youth returning within three years. Community based alternatives are dramatically more successful at preventing youth from reoffending -- at far less cost.

Seventeen states have closed over 50 juvenile prisons in the last five years with good results, including decreased repeat offending and lowered costs.

Downsizing our state's costly investment in juvenile prisons and shifting to community-based alternatives -- especially for low level offending youth -- makes fiscal and public safety sense.

Elizabeth Clarke,
president,
Juvenile Justice Initiative