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Juvenile Court Records Shed Light On Adult Recidivism

550 separate young people spent at least one night in the McLean County Juvenile Detention Center 2009-2020, according to a new analysis.
Ralph Weisheit
According to a new analysis, 550 individual young people spent at least one night in the McLean County Juvenile Detention Center from 2009-2020.

A decade of data from the McLean County Juvenile Detention Center and the county jail is starting to offer insight into patterns of adult crime.

Judges, prosecutors, and social workers are keenly interested in data on youth and their involvement in the criminal court system that can shed light on their trajectory as they become adults.

Illinois State University sociologist Frank Beck and a number of ISU students and researchers at the Stevenson Center for Community and Economic Development looked at people who went through the juvenile justice system, the juvenile detention center, and the adult correctional center from 2009-2020.

"We can now analyze patterns among juveniles and how they may or may not trend toward involvement in the criminal justice system as adults," said Beck.

Illinois State University Sociologist Frank Beck.
Illinois State University Sociologist Frank Beck.

There is some good news.

A lot of the kids who get in trouble don't stay in trouble later. Beck said 1,427 youths had a juvenile booking in the last decade in McLean County. Of those, 416 were back for a second booking, he said.

"And that's less than half. That's a third. And then half of that, you're at 206 persons came back for a third case, which again is half as much as those who had a second case. So, it drops off pretty quick," said Beck.

Beck and the ISU researchers also did a deeper dive into a smaller set of youth — those who not only entered the court system,but were booked into the juvenile detention center. That includes youth generally accused of committing more serious offenses.

Less than half of the juveniles who had delinquencies and other offenses spent time in the juvenile detention center (JDC). That's 550. Among the youth incarcerated, there's a similar falling arc to the overall system numbers as the number of detentions grew. For example, Beck said there were just 26 people who had 11 or more bookings into the Juvenile Detention Center.

More serious juvenile offenses

There also is bad news.

There is a link between the more serious juvenile offenses and adult involvement in the courts. Beck told the McLean County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council on July 22 that 63% of people who went to the juvenile facility also ended up going to the adult correctional center later in life. And he said 60% of kids booked for violent delinquent offenses came back to the justice system in the county as adults.

"It is true that a majority of persons who are incarcerated in the JDC will eventually end up in the adult facility, but not all. Though there is not a strong relationship between the number of bookings into the two facilities it is a positive relationship in the sense of as one goes up the other goes up," said Beck.

The numbers do show those who only went to the juvenile detention center once, didn't go to adult jail as frequently. But Beck said the reverse is also true.

"Of those who had five or more bookings into the JDC that were drug involved, 80% of them ended up with a booking into the adult facility," said Beck.

And Beck said 75% of youngsters with several gun violations ended up in the adult jail at some point in the decade.

Another step he said will be to analyze the data to look at how mental health issues correspond to incarceration. Judges, prosecutors, defenders, and others can use the data to adjust court diversionary programs, said Beck. The legal system could also begin to more precisely target youth who are at a high risk of offending later in life for more intensive services when they are young.

Editor's Note: The story has been changed to Clarify Frank Beck's affiliation with ISU's Stevenson Center for Community and Economic Development.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.