State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (8th)

Every year, hundreds of troubled teenagers from all over the state of Illinois run afoul of Illinois’ laws and find themselves in the juvenile justice system. Many factors, ranging from unemployment, drugs, behavioral health issues, and family poverty cause youth to turn to crime. 

In Chicago, carjacking by poor, young black men has become one of the city’s major concerns for drivers. The city’s answer to stopping the carjacking is to pass a state law to increase penalties directed at juveniles. When troubled teens act out and break the rules, it should be viewed as a cry for help, not a cry to ruin their lives with felony charges and incarceration. 

Illinois should not destroy the lives of troubled youths before giving them a fair shot at success as an adult. The failure of parents and schools to meet the needs of their troubled youth results in today’s carjacking incidents.

Now, of course, justice for victims of crimes should be pursued, and restorative justice methods could be effective in addressing this type of crime. Our law enforcement officials should quickly solve more of these cases. But we must take a broader view to respond to these and similar incidents.

In 2004, the Illinois General Assembly set the state on a new course of action for meeting the needs of delinquent youth by creating a program called Redeploy Illinois for Juveniles. In the pilot program, 61 percent of youths successfully completing the program were not incarcerated within the following three years, compared to 34 percent of youths who did not successfully complete the program. Based on its success, the Redeploy Illinois program was expanded to serve nearly a quarter of all Illinois counties, but Cook County youths are not eligible for the program.

The city of Chicago should be fighting to bring Redeploy Illinois to Cook County to support juveniles, instead of fighting to pass a new law that could ruin children’s lives and make them even more dangerous adults.

Research has found that nonviolent youths are less likely to become further involved in criminal behavior if they remain in their home communities and receive appropriate services to address underlying needs such as mental illness, substance use disorders, learning disabilities, unstable living arrangements and dysfunctional parenting.  

State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (8th)