To the Editor:
The appointment last week of a new state juvenile justice chief – a veteran of the state's child welfare system – signals a new era in juvenile justice reform. Arthur Bishop is on record favoring a different treatment model for troubled youth that emphasizes rehabilitation and second chances. That is good news, not only for the youth and their families, but for all Illinois citizens.
As president of the Illinois State Bar Association, I will work closely with our members to concentrate on the very important issue of juvenile justice reform. For too long, we have largely employed a system that has failed our youth, spending a staggering $100 million annually to lock them up in state correctional facilities or in detention centers while they await trial. It's not working – for them or for us.
Fortunately, we are beginning to see a reversal of this past trend. Research from the MacArthur Foundation, a partner in our effort, shows that half or more of our youth sent to prison for lesser crimes return to our communities after discharge from prison without rehabilitation having occurred. The last thing we want to happen is increased exposure of our youth to hardened criminals as their role models.
We already know what works. Leaders in Illinois communities of all sizes, including lawyers, prosecutors and judges, have implemented alternative treatment options that are producing results. During my presidency, many of our lawyer and judge members of the bar will focus on and celebrate the good work already under way. In the process, we hope to raise further awareness of this timely issue.
The next few years will be crucial ones for juvenile justice reform. We must all work together to ensure that all of our youth can fulfill their dreams and become, instead of a liability, an asset to our community.
Mark D. Hassakis
President, Illinois State Bar Association 2010-11