Cook County’s juvenile justice system is about to get a makeover. Chicago-area community groups and government leaders this week announced their commitment to youth rehabilitation rather than incarceration, which they say will only be used as a last resort.
Cook County created the nation’s first juvenile court more than a century ago in an attempt to help young people avoid a future of crime. A 2013 study of the Cook County juvenile justice system by economists at Brown University and MIT found that incarcerated youth are less likely to complete high school and more likely to be sent to prison as adults than those in the system who are supervised in their own communities.
The coalition members and Cook County leaders agreed to “renew Cook County’s commitment as the home of the world’s first juvenile court to treat justice-involved youth in age appropriate ways, incorporating the most effective and humane policies, using incarceration as a last resort based on the totality of the case and the character of the youth.”
The 10 principles in “Commitment to Improvements in the Juvenile Justice System in Cook County” were agreed upon by people in local businesses, civic and religious organizations, and Cook County officials.
Jenn Stanley is a freelance journalist, essayist and independent producer living in Chicago. She has an M.S. from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.