juvenile justice reform. The goal of the multi-year, multi-jurisdiction Models for Change initiative
was to promote policy and practice reforms that would result in a “more rational, fair, effective,
and developmentally appropriate response” to youthful offending.14 The Foundation began by
identifying a set of principles that would guide the work of the initiative, including ensuring
fundamental fairness, acknowledging developmental differences between youth and adults,
holding youth appropriately accountable, promoting community safety, fostering individual youth
potential, and recognizing system and community responsibility.15 It then selected four “core”
states to serve as laboratories for reform.16 The Foundation’s expectation was that these
jurisdictions would produce new evidence-based models of law and practice that could be shared
with other states and that would ultimately lead to wholesale juvenile justice reform.17 Illinois was
chosen as a core state on the basis of its strong juvenile justice advocacy community, its existing
reform efforts, and its need and readiness for change across various stages of the juvenile justice
This Article summarizes how Illinois went about the task of “bending the curve” of juvenile
justice systems reform. It begins with a brief overview of the Illinois Models for Change initiative,
followed by examples of how Illinois has been able to more closely align parts of its juvenile
justice system with the initiative’s core principles. The Article next identifies key lessons that have
emerged from the decade-long Illinois experiment. It ends on a note of cautious optimism about
the future of juvenile justice reform in Illinois, tempered by recognition that the vagaries of
politics, economics and personalities pose an ever-present threat to the long-term sustainability of
any major reform effort.
II. MODELS FOR CHANGE
A. Initiative Overview
One of the potential strengths and persistent challenges of the American juvenile justice
system is that it is highly fragmented. Laws, leadership structures and resources differ from state
to state and from local jurisdiction to local jurisdiction. This diversity allows responsiveness to
14 See MACARTHUR FOUNDATION, MODELS FOR CHANGE: A CALL FOR ACTION 3 (2013),
http:/ modelsforchange.net/publications/517 (summarizing the goals of Models for Change and highlighting progress
in achieving them over the course of the initiative).
15 See Background, MODELS FOR CHANGE,
(last visited February 10, 2016) (identifying principles that framed the Models for Change Initiative).
16 Id. The four core states were Illinois, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Washington.
17 See PATRICK GRIFFIN, MODELS FOR CHANGE 2008 UPDATE: GATHERING FORCE, 3 (2008),
http://modelsforchange.net/publications/105 (providing an overview of the philosophy and structure of the Models for
Change initiative, including the decision to focus on a small number of states and the role of the lead entity in each
core state). To assist in the process of model development and diffusion, the MacArthur Foundation established a
National Resource Bank made up of technical assistance providers with expertise and experience in both subject matter
areas and in strategic change. As the Models for Change initiative drew to a close, several Resource Bank members
were reorganized into a set of Resource Center Partnerships, with a goal of providing juvenile justice stakeholders
with ongoing technical support and training around issues of mental health, indigent defense, dually involved youth,
and status offenders. See BENJAMIN CHAMBERS & ANNIE BALEK, BECAUSE KIDS ARE DIFFERENT: FIVE
OPPORTUNITIES FOR REFORMING THE JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM 4 (2014).
18 See Illinois, MODELS FOR CHANGE,
visited Feb. 2, 2016) [hereinafter MODELS FOR CHANGE] (noting that Illinois established the nation’s first juvenile
justice system and referencing systems improvements that suggested that Illinois was poised to accelerate the pace of
reform as a core Models for Change state).