EXCHANGE: Program addressing youth incarceration may grow

 
 
Posted12/15/2019 7:00 AM

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A program that provides an alternative to incarceration for court-involved youth in Southern Illinois has reached a critical milestone.

In October, the Illinois Department of Human Services awarded an 'œestablished site' designation to the Union County-based Redeploy Illinois site, which serves most of the First Judicial Circuit.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

That's significant because it brings more certainty to annual state funding allocations and allows the community-based program to serve more youth than it has in the past, said Keri Clark, Union County's director of juvenile services.

'œBecoming an established site benefits all of us,' Clark said. 'œFor the youth, we can begin to effect change with earlier intervention. For the judiciary, we can equip decision makers with options for their high'"risk clients before they become felony offenders.'

This is the fifth year that the program has been operational in the First Judicial Circuit, which comprises the counties of Alexander, Jackson, Johnson, Massac, Pope, Pulaski, Saline, Union and Williamson (Williamson, however, doesn't participate because it has its own program).

But from the start, the Redeploy program serving these counties has suffered numerous setbacks, leading to a significant drop off in referrals from judges, state's attorneys and probation officers, Clark said. The most significant problem, Clark said, was that only one type of therapy, provided by a single service provider was offered, and it didn't fit the needs of the diverse problems facing juveniles that become part of the system.

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Clark was hired about a year and a half ago, and under her direction, she has negotiated arrangements with additional providers that allow the program to offer a much broader menu of service options for the stakeholders to choose from when referring their juvenile clients. The state recognized that effort and provided the established site designation, she said. That means that it no longer has to compete for grant funding and will receive continuing appropriations upon submission of an annual plan.

Before the site designation, the program was also restricted to serving youth whose involvements with law enforcement or the judicial system were due to a few specific felony crimes. Now, almost every child will be a potential candidate for Redeploy Illinois, with only limited exceptions.

With these changes in place, Clark has embarked on a 'œroad show' traveling to various counties that make up the circuit to highlight the program's improvements, answer questions and to encourage more referrals.

On Tuesday, for instance, she met with Joe Howerton, Jackson County probation supervisor.

Howerton was involved in helping guide some of the changes, based on his extensive experience working with youth in Jackson County. 'œWith Redeploy, the idea is to find out whatever it is the kid needs and try to address that need.' The limited offerings available before the more recent changes made it difficult to refer children, he said. For one thing, he said the only option previously available required family involvement. Howerton said he always prefers and encourages family involvement, but sometimes families can't - or won't - participate. 'œAnd then we're stuck with nothing. We had to have something else to work with," he said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

New providers for the program include Centerstone Illinois, Vienna-based Family Counseling Center Inc., and the Stress and Trauma Treatment Center in Eldorado and Murphysboro, which is headed by licensed clinical psychologist Matt Buckman. What a child needs in therapy is case specific, Buckman said, but almost always involves addressing traumatic events they have experienced or witnessed and working on better coping mechanisms. He said that for many court-involved youth, they are living in a stressed, near-constant 'œfight-or-flight' state of mind because of this unaddressed trauma. He likened it to a person under stress lashing out at a spouse or colleague and later regretting it. The crimes committed by children living with unaddressed trauma are not typically premeditated, he said.

'œUnfortunately, a lot of the youth in the judicial system, they've experienced abuse and neglect as children. Not all, but a lot of them have,' Buckman said. 'œThey've witnessed domestic violence or other types of community violence '» We're trying to stop that cycle of violence where one generation after another just continues to follow the same path.'

During his many years on the bench, George Timberlake, who retired in 2006 as chief judge of the Second Judicial Circuit, said he saw numerous individuals in the same families cycle through his courtroom related to various legal and personal troubles in their lives. It was frustrating, he said, watching people continue the same poor behaviors they had learned from those who had raised them. 'œThat made me say, '˜Let's do something else.'' He was particularly troubled by the youth he met in his courtroom, knowing that incarceration wouldn't give them any better shot at a stable and productive life.

'œUsing a prison for young people produces no positive results. In fact, it creates a higher likelihood that the young person would be involved in criminal activities in the future,' said Timberlake, who is a member of the Redeploy Illinois Oversight Board and chair of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission.

But this program, he said, has worked. When it started, the goal was to reduce the number of children incarcerated by 25%. 'œIn fact, the multiple sites have reduced incarceration by over 50%,' he said.

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Source: The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan, https://bit.ly/34jLVTX

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Information from: Southern Illinoisan, http://www.southernillinoisan.com

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