To the editor:
Mr. J. Meister’s recent column (There are no rules in prison) shows why juvenile justice in Illinois desperately needed to change. Anyone who has seen an Illinois Youth Center knows that it is punishment. No young person happily goes to bed at night locked in a small steel-door cell, far away from family and friends. Placing juveniles in these settings for an extended period of time only increases the risk of recidivism –the risk that the young people involved will end up being wards of the state, incarcerated at taxpayer expense, as adults. Even someone with as little sympathy as the author for the “largely poor and urban population” he thinks should be treated harshly in return for “three hot meals a day” should recognize that this makes no social or economic sense.
Here is the reality. As a result of the ACLU’s lawsuit, youth now have opportunities not just to earn high school diplomas or GEDs while in custody at DJJ, but also vocational certificates in food service, horticulture, and building trades. Mental health services have been enhanced, and the work to improve them is ongoing. Since 2012, the population of DJJ has diminished from 1,000 to 300. A return to the failed policies and attitudes of the past in its youth centers is exactly what Illinois does not need.
Senior Staff Attorney
ACLU of Illinois