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Once-vaunted juvenile justice program now heavily criticized

“We should scrap it and start all over again.”

Such is the informed judgment of one Illinois juvenile justice expert concerning a once-lauded youth-linked criminal system diversion program that has long suffered from notable defects.

What Betsy Clarke and many other inside commentators who staunchly echo her view pointedly target for criticism is the state’s 2006-authored Juvenile Intervention and Support Center.

The initiative commonly known as the JISC was the brainchild of criminal justice pundits eager to create a program for quickly identifying juvenile offenders suitable for jail-free diversion programs. A key program view has always been that identifying such youth quickly following arrest and helping them to avoid criminal court in lieu of alternative options (e.g., social services referral, admonition rather than arrest, etc.) would greatly reduce recidivism and free up investigatory/enforcement resources.

Clarke and a broad-based coterie of like-minded thinkers say that the program’s meritorious goals have been materially undermined by flawed administration. Some of the stated problems tie to these alleged shortcomings:

  • Failed communications between relevant departments, especially first-line police officers serving as station screeners and social service representatives
  • Deficient record keeping and data collection that make it difficult to accurately gauge program effectiveness
  • Subpar training of jailhouse personnel tasked with overseeing initial contact with detained youth
  • Sloppy referral system yielding problematic juvenile assessments and pass-alongs to appropriate service providers

Notwithstanding the multiple program glitches that are being currently spotlighted, criminal law authorities in Illinois and nationally uniformly voice a shared view that programs such as the JISC are vitally important, especially concerning first-time and low-level juvenile offenders. Hopefully the JISC’s cited flaws can be remedied.

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