The following statement can be attributed to Camille Bennett, Director of the Corrections Reform Project, ACLU of Illinois:
“As counsel for youth in custody of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), we hope today’s announcement is a further step forward to creating a humane and rehabilitative environment for young people in DJJ custody. It is encouraging that today’s announcement focuses on bringing youth closer to home, and matching each youth with services they need.
And it is especially appropriate to hear the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Director will center this work on racial equity and inclusion, addressing the real harm that has been experienced by Black and Brown youth who are by far the most affected by our current system.
We filed the R.J. lawsuit eight years ago when the more than 1,000 youth held by DJJ faced harsh conditions. DJJ facilities were filthy. Young people – including some with serious mental health needs – were locked in cells for 22 or 23 hours per day. Staffing was inadequate and the education program was woeful.
Today, DJJ population has fallen below 100, solitary confinement has been eliminated, and educational, mental health and rehabilitative services have improved.
What remains true is that while in DJJ custody, a 14- or 15-year-old can still spend their night in a locked cell, month after month, hundreds of miles from their family and the only neighborhood they have ever known. We commend Governor Pritzker, Lieutenant Governor Stratton and IDJJ Director Heidi Mueller for recognizing the need to bring these young people closer to home and committing to a plan to make this a reality. We also commend the dedicated youth advocates from across the state who have spoken out and worked hard to change this system.
Now the real work begins. We look forward to continuing to working with DJJ to creating a system that truly seeks to recognize and develop the potential in young people committed to their care.
Today’s announcement also reminds us that we can make big changes in the State of Illinois. We look forward to working with the Governor and his Administration to achieve change to policing in our state as well as fundamental reform of the criminal legal system.”