Police officers obscure a banner that says "Fund Schools Not Prisons" at a demonstration outside of Illinois Youth Center, a juvenile detention center in Chicago, during a one-day teachers strike on April 1, 2016.

Racial disparities worsen as juvenile imprisonment declines in Illinois

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.

Ashburn Elementary

The question of tech equity

Technology isn’t a silver bullet for learning, but schools can’t reap any benefit if they don’t have what’s needed to make the best use of it: fast internet, enough computers and trained teachers.

Edgebrook Elementary

Moving the legacy forward

When Catalyst Chicago went to press with this issue, lawmakers in Springfield had finally passed a stopgap budget that will let schools open in the fall, in Chicago and in other districts that had sounded the alarm about possible shutdowns. After a year-long stalemate, the temporary budget will allow the wheels of state government to continue turning for a time. But there’s no reason to breathe a sigh of relief, at least for longer than a few seconds.