Giving troubled teens a final chance

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Kendall Downing

UNION COUNTY, Ill. - Giving troubled kids another chance. Six southern Illinois counties are changing how they handle juvenile delinquency in 2014.

The program is called Redeploy Illinois and funded by a $200,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Human Services.

Judges in Jackson, Johnson, Massac, Pope, Saline, and Union counties will have a new option before committing a teen to the Department of Juvenile Justice. The grant money pays for counselors to provide therapy to teens and their families as a last step.

Teenagers should spend most of their time in school.

But Union County State's Attorney Tyler Edmonds sees some in the courtroom, sentenced to time in a juvenile facility before they're 18, and part of a vicious cycle.

"Once a juvenile ends up in the juvenile justice system, they very quickly end up back there again if they're released, or very often times into an adult prison," said Edmonds.

That's why a year ago Edmonds wanted an alternative. He said those repeat teenage offenders often have no support system and counseling can help.

"The larger problem in a lot of these cases deals with the family. There could be underlying levels of substance abuse, often times drug and alcohol abuse. We can see abuse and neglect issues with the parents and the children," he said.

As part of the program, judges can order juveniles and their family members to undergo counseling. Therapists will work with prosecutors and public defenders and give reports to the court on their progress.

Edmonds said other counties in Illinois with this model have seen dramatic decreases in the number of teens sent to juvenile justice facilities, one by as much as 90%.

"We don't want people to end up in a life of incarceration because we didn't have any options; we didn't have any services," said Edmonds.

Truancy and destruction of property are two common crimes Edmonds said lead teens to more serious ones. His hope is that a more personal touch can stop the cycle.

Edmonds said the services will be offered on a case-by-case basis and not a consideration for juvenile offenders who commit violent crimes.

Alexander, Pulaski, and Williamson counties are the three counties in the judicial circuit that will not be participating in the new approach in 2014.

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