Each year, an estimated 2.1 million youth under age 18 are arrested in the United States, and in Cook County alone, 15,517 were arrested in 2016.  For many young people, these are not isolated events: national studies have shown that 55% of young people are rearrested within a year of their first arrest, and 24% experienced an additional reincarceration or confinement in a juvenile facility.  Get IN Chicago’s research with Cook County Juvenile Probation and Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago showed that youth with four or more arrests on record had a significantly higher likelihood of participating in gun violence.

Reducing recidivism, or repeat involvement in the criminal justice system, is a growing priority for community and government agencies who work with young people.  The State of Illinois is committed to increasing rehabilitation rather than detention for youth offenders.  In May 2015, the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice initiated a comprehensive strategic plan focused specifically on rehabilitative efforts to reduce recidivism.

Get IN Chicago funds a number of programs that complement these efforts by providing community-based support to reduce young people’s involvement in the juvenile justice system. A Get IN Chicago review of these funded programs suggests a few key strategies associated with positive outcomes, three of which are highlighted here: intensive individual support, public systems collaboration, and trauma-informed approaches.

Intensive, individual support: One-on-one support, either through individual mentoring or case management, was present in programs with strong outcomes in reducing recidivism.   For example, in Lawndale Christian Legal Center (LCLC)’s integrated mentoring and legal advocacy program for justice-involved youth in North Lawndale, staff use a model that prioritizes meeting with participants individually for at least 90 minutes each week.  For higher risk youth, such as those with justice system involvement, Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development programs show this type of consistent weekly dosage to be especially beneficial.  At LCLC, mentors use this dedicated time to build positive relationships, model appropriate pro-social behaviors, and help youth take steps toward achieving their individual goals.  Over two years of funding from Get IN Chicago, the LCLC mentoring program reported that approximately 90% of their youth stayed in compliance or were found not guilty of probation, supervision, or parole violations.

Public systems collaboration: Direct partnerships and linkage agreements with entities such as Cook County Juvenile Probation, Cook County Juvenile Detention, Chicago Police Department districts, and the Cook County State’s Attorney were common among programs with reduced recidivism.  By working with these agencies, nonprofit programs can increase their engagement with higher-risk youth and also set up important relationships with public systems. These partnerships also foster trust and collaboration to help youth participants better meet all requirements of prior probations/paroles and keep them safe and on track for success.  At Westside Health Authority’s Project AVERT, which is a workforce development program for high-risk youth in Austin, one probation officer shared, “I am grateful for a program and staff that is responsive and delivers on its promises… through this relationship, we have referred two new probation officers to Westside for youth programs.”  In 2016, Project AVERT reported that none of its justice-involved youth participants had recidivated by the end of the year.

In addition to partnerships with programs for teenagers, Get IN Chicago uses public collaborations in other ways – such as the Police/Youth Baseball Leagues, which links youth ages 9-12 with local and retired police officer coaches.

Trauma-informed approaches: Recent research with NORC at the University of Chicago showed that 70% of acutely high-risk youth in Get IN Chicago’s SYNC program had prior exposure to trauma.  Trauma-informed programs, which recognize and address how traumatic symptoms manifest emotionally and physically, can improve a variety of outcomes for high-risk youth. “Understanding the ‘back story’ helps staff support clients in developing the skills needed to manager their emotions,” shared the program manager at Healing Hurt People-Chicago (HHP-C), which uses trauma-informed practices in its work with youth gunshot and stabbing victims.  “A simple way that we do this is by asking not, ‘What is wrong with you?’ but ‘What happened to you?’” In addition to reductions in traumatic symptoms and substance abuse among participants, HHP-C staff reported that this programmatic approach helped 87% of program participants reduced their criminal justice involvement in 2016-2017.

Rev. Carol Reese, Program Manager of Healing Hurt People-Chicago (left) and Dr. Andrew Dennis, Chair of the Division of Pre-Hospital and Emergency Services in the Department of Trauma & Burn at Stroger Hospital (right) discuss aspects of their program at Get IN Chicago’s recent How Hospitals Can Reduce Violence event.