Redeploy Illinois: A Model for Juvenile Justice Reform

Mark Richardson | Public News Service
By diverting juveniles away from detention, Redeploy Illinois estimates it has saved the state $158 million, tax money that would have otherwise been spent on incarceration costs. Photo Credit: gorodenkoff / Adobe Stock

Redeploy Illinois is a community-based alternative to incarceration, which keeps kids in their home communities.

For decades, most youthful offenders in Illinois were sent to juvenile detention. But 17 years ago, state officials decided there is a better way to help kids headed down the wrong path.

The program, considered a model for other states, evaluates the young person’s life situation and provides social services to prevent further brushes with the law.

George Timberlake, a retired judge and former chair of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, who was active in developing the program, said it benefits the youth, their family and the community.

“It has been successful, not only to not make things worse for the kid in the justice system, but also to actually improve the chances that kid wasn’t going to simply learn how to be a crook in prison,” Timberlake explained.

Since 2005, Redeploy Illinois has provided services to more than 4,800 young people and their families with measurable results. And by this year, commitments to juvenile facilities were down by 65%.

Timberlake pointed out the kids who enter the juvenile justice system often struggle with such issues as poverty, substance use, mental health challenges or trauma, which can all contribute to risk-taking or criminal behavior.

“There is much more upfront assessment of, ‘What do we have here?’ And there’s much more of saying to the offender, not, ‘What did you do?’ But, ‘What happened to you?’ That kid’s history is the most important thing that we can discover through assessment,” Timberlake noted.

Timberlake added the previous hard-line approach to juvenile offenders used to mean a stretch in jail. But he argued, in most cases, it did not solve the problem, and often made it worse.

“I don’t care what they did, it’s, ‘Wait a minute, I’m in prison at this time.’ That changes a young person’s attitude, beliefs and approach to the world,” Timberlake contended. “We can do better than that.”