Stemming the Tide: Diverting Youth With Mental Health Conditions from the Illinois Juvenile Justice System

All young people deserve the resources and support needed to secure both physical and mental health.

But unfortunately, in Illinois youth are being thrust into our criminal justice system without regard to their mental health needs. While the overall number of youth who are jailed or incarcerated in Illinois has declined over the last few years, those living with mental health conditions are still entering the criminal justice system at higher rates. Of the thousands of youth arrests and admissions to local jails in Illinois each year, approximately 70 percent meet diagnostic criteria for having a mental health condition, and at least 20 percent live with a serious mental health condition.

In 2017, the General Assembly created the Illinois Mental Health Opportunities for Youth Diversion Task Force—including experts from the Shriver Center—to develop an action plan for implementing new or expanded diversion programs aimed at youth living with mental health conditions. The Task Force’s new report, Stemming the Tide, lays out a roadmap to build a better system in Illinois and help kids get the support they need. This requires a shift toward community-based mental health services, not only to improve outcomes for our youth but so Illinois can focus greater attention on violent offenders and improve public safety.

With these improvements, youth with mental health conditions can get on the road to recovery that helps prevent further contact with the justice system and return to school, work, and family.

To receive the latest news and information from the Shriver Center