Justice for juveniles

The Illinois Association of Juvenile Justice Councils has been formed to help convene new juvenile justice councils and link them with others in the state in an effort to create more effective policies and practices with youth in conflict with the law.

The councils are designed to help coordinate resources and planning.

Council members are community leaders working to prevent juvenile delinquency and protect public safety and typically include law enforcement, prosecutors, public defenders, youth advocates, judges, probation officers and service providers.

“Juvenile justice councils help maximize community resources available to respond to juveniles involved in crimes,” said George W. Timberlake, chair of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission. “When a community works together, there’s a greater chance of changing youth behaviors early, an important step in preventing young people from moving further and further into the justice system.

“This new association will expand the conversation,” said Timberlake, a retired chief judge of Illinois’ Second Judicial Circuit and former chair of the Second Judicial Circuit Juvenile Justice Council. “It’s a good way for councils to share experiences and to help others learn what has worked, as well as what has not.”

The new association was launched with $35,000 in seed funding provided by the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission and a $75,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation as part of its Models for Change initiative, which accelerates reform of juvenile justice systems across the country. Membership dues will support the future operations of the IAJCC.

Michelle Bradley of Mt. Vernon, Ill. leads the IAJJC as its coordinator. She has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Memphis and a master’s degree in public administration from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. She has served as a juvenile probation officer, director of a shelter care facility and a member of several boards of non-profit organizations dealing with child welfare and community issues regarding youth. She most recently was vice president of community-based services at the United Methodist Children’s Home in Mt. Vernon.

Bradley said the new association hopes to expand the number of Illinois counties that use juvenile justice councils. Currently, there are 32 county juvenile justice councils in Illinois, and three judicial circuits have circuit-wide councils. The IAJJC will coordinate efforts among the councils by holding statewide conferences, hosting web meetings and on-line discussions, and convening other trainings and meetings.

“Several counties with established councils have been able to improve coordination of responses to problems with juveniles and make plans for preventing future problems,” Bradley said. “Juvenile justice councils bring all the local stakeholders together at the same table and provide a forum to talk about successes in the system and to identify areas that need attention. We want to make certain all counties are aware of the advantages.”

By law, if a county creates a juvenile justice council, it must include a representative of the state’s attorney, the sheriff, the chief probation officer, the public defender and the county board. In addition, the chief judge may name a representative on the council. Participation on councils is also open to other community members – the IAJJC will work to ensure they include local police, educators, youth and family service providers, clergy, business owners and others.

Illinois law also encourages the councils to create a “county juvenile justice plan” to facilitate interagency cooperation, information sharing and program creation. The plans are also intended to contain recommendations for more effective policies and practices with youth in conflict with the law. IAJJC’s survey indicates that, today, few communities have comprehensive juvenile justice plans in place. The IAJJC hopes to assist councils in creating these plans in ways which best utilize scarce resources to effectively meet the needs of youth and communities.

Membership in the IAJJC is open to councils, individual members of councils and those interested in starting a county council. Member benefits also include a published guide to create a council, sample county juvenile justice plans and tools to help councils gather and assess statistics about youth crime and responses.

 

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