Juvenile incarceration rates have decreased over the past decade in the United States (Sickmund, et al., 2010). In Illinois, between state fiscal years 2000 and 2010, total admissions to the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ) dropped 19 percent, to 2,162. In addition, the number of youth admitted to IDJJ for a new sentence (as opposed to a technical violation of parole) fell 34 percent. Despite these promising reductions in youth incarceration, budgetary implications of these incarcerations are significant in a tough economy. Further, the human cost of incarceration is a constant concern within the criminal justice community and society.
IDJJ releases more than 2,400 youth back into the community each year and little is known about their post-release offending rates, or other characteristics. The Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority recently examined populations of youths released from IDJJ facilities between state fiscal years 2005 and 2007. The resulting reports present demographic and incarceration offense information and information on releasees’ prior arrests and incarcerations. The study further tracked offender re-arrests and re-incarcerations for up to five years following their release, in both juvenile and adult facilities.
The study revealed that the average age of a youth at release was almost 17 years old, and most youth were serving sentences for property offenses (43 percent) or offenses against a person (31 percent). Youth examined had an average of five prior arrests, and 79 percent had at least one prior arrest for a violent offense. Youth released after serving sentences for drug offenses had the highest average number of prior arrests. Less than one-quarter of youth released had previously been incarcerated.
Eighty-six percent of youth in the study were re-arrested within three years of release. Youth released after serving sentences for sex offenses were the least likely to be re-arrested. Illinois re-arrest rates were similar to those reported in California and Florida, but were higher than in New York and Texas. Seventy percent of youth were re-incarcerated during the study period. Forty-one percent of youth were incarcerated at least once for a new offense and 53 percent of youth were re-incarcerated at least once for a technical violation of parole.
More detailed information regarding these recidivism measures are included in the report, but it is worth noting that measuring recidivism is a complicated and even controversial task. Regardless of how one chooses to define it, the possibility remains that errors may either overestimate or underestimate true re-offending behavior. Further, recidivism must be understood within the context of age, namely that offending behavior is highest among adolescents and young adults, and typically declines as one ages (Blumstein & Cohen, 1987).
Regardless of the complications and controversy surrounding juvenile recidivism, it is clear that this is a pressing issue and more information is necessary. Further, while recidivism has significant financial implications for state correctional systems, it is hard to overlook the personal effect incarceration, and repeated incarceration, has on these young offenders.
Read the reports here:
Juvenile recidivism in Illinois: Exploring youth re-arrest and re-incarceration
Juvenile recidivism in Illinois: Examining re-arrest and re-incarceration of youth committed for a court evaluation
Blumstein, A. & Cohen, J. (1987). Characterizing criminal careers. Science, 237(4818), 985-991. doi: 10.1126/science.237.4818.985
Sickmund, M., Sladky, T.J., Kang, W., & Puzzanchera, C. (2011). Easy access to the Census of juveniles in residential placement”. Online. Available: http://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/ezacjrp/
Lindsay Bostwick is currently pursuing her doctorate in public policy and management at Carnegie Mellon University. Previously she was a research analyst with the Illinois Criminal Justice information Authority.
*Photo at top by Flickr user Karin Bell
Updated: February 08 2018