Over the past decade, Illinois has incarcerated fewer young people as the state seeks to reform its juvenile justice system and provide youth with more options for rehabilitation instead of prison. But the decline in young inmates has not led to significant savings in incarceration costs because the state hasn’t shut down prisons at a fast enough pace, according to a recent policy brief from Voices for Illinois Children, a research and advocacy group. In some facilities, in fact, more than half of beds are vacant–even though “putting youth in prisons is the most expensive and least effective way to respond to juvenile delinquency,” the policy brief states. “Illinois spends heavily on unnecessary prison facilities to incarcerate fewer and fewer youth each year.”
Recognizing the problem, the state has shut down three of its eight youth prisons in the past three years — including the closure this summer of its troubled Kewanee facility, which for years had been the subject of complaints of chronic understaffing and failure to provide sufficient education or health services. The facility is being converted into an adult prison to alleviate severe overcrowding statewide.