this data, advocates were successful in supporting new legislation designed to ensure that judges
consider alternatives to incarceration before committing youth to the Department of Juvenile
Justice.64 Illinois law now requires that juvenile court sentencing judges be provided with detailed
information on a youth’s background, family, and strengths as well as challenges.65 In addition,
probation officers or other court personnel must detail for the court the types of services that are
available in the community, the specific services that a youth was offered, and why those services
were unsuccessful.66 Finally, judges must make a finding on the record that commitment to the
Department of Juvenile Justice is the “least restrictive alternative” based on the evidence presented
to the court. A study on the impact of this legislation found that it has already contributed to the
overall reduction of youth committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice.67 In light of declining
commitments to the state’s youth prison system, Illinois’ governor has announced plans to identify
up to three additional facilities to close, with a goal of further reducing the state’s reliance on
secure confinement and saving Illinois taxpayers millions of dollars.68
3. Other System Improvements
In addition to right-sizing the juvenile court system by raising the age of jurisdiction,
limiting automatic transfer, and ensuring that only the most serious offenders are eligible for
placement in a secure setting, Models for Change partners also undertook efforts to improve how
the juvenile justice system functions and to protect the procedural rights of system-involved youth.
An important example of this effort was passage of a bill that requires early access to counsel for
youth who are arrested and detained awaiting trial.69 The legislation gives youth a statutory right
to the appointment of a lawyer immediately upon the filing of a petition and provides that no
detention hearing may be held until after the accused has had a meaningful opportunity to consult
with his or her attorney.70 As a result, young people entering the system are now able to receive
informed advice about their case at the front end of the process and their attorneys have access to
the information they need to prepare for their clients’ detention hearings and cases.
Another system improvement under Models for Change has been the increased use of
objective screening and assessment tools to identify and treat mental health problems among youth
in the justice system. It is estimated that between sixty-five and seventy percent of detained youth
suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder.
71 Failure to identify such a disorder impedes the
64 Public Act 97-0362 (2012) (codified as amended at 705 ILL. COMP. STAT. ANN. 405/5-750(1) (West 2015)).
67 JACOBS & CLARK, supra note 63. In at least one reported appellate opinion, a judge’s commitment order was
reversed when the judge failed to affirmatively consider whether there was an appropriate community-based
alternative to commitment. In re Raheen M., 1 N.E. 86 (Ill. App. Dist. 2013).
68 Marwa Eltagouri, Rauner Cost-Cutting Plan Could Include Suburban Youth Prisons, CHI. TRIBUNE (June 5,
71 See GINA M. VINCENT, SCREENING AND ASSESSMENT IN JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEMS: IDENTIFYING MENTAL
HEALTH NEEDS AND RISK OF REOFFENDING 1 (Tech. Assistance P’ship for Child and Family Mental Health, ed., 2012)
(citing research showing that between sixty-five and seventy-five percent of justice-system involved youth have at
least one diagnosable mental health need); SARAH HAMMOND, MENTAL HEALTH NEEDS OF JUVENILE OFFENDERS 4
(Nat’l Conference of State Legislatures, ed., 2007) (noting that of the seventy percent of juveniles who have a mental