17 OCTOBER 2003


With cells for juvenile offenders sparse across the state, McHenry County officials in 1996 began a home detention program aimed at keeping young offenders under wraps without placing them behind bars.

Illinois: County's juvenile program lauded

Seven years later, the program is being credited not only with putting troubled kids back on the right side of the law, but also saving McHenry County hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time when it struggles to stay out of the red.

“It's drastically reduced the need for dollars in that (Probation and Court Services) department,” Don Brewer, chairman of the county board's Law and Justice Committee, said this week. “In fact, in the past few years we've been able to borrow money out of probation to help other departments.”

Brewer and his counterparts praised the program earlier this week after seeing figures showing the savings it was providing the county.  In recent years, the county's costs of keeping young offenders behind bars has fallen from a high of $439,083 in 1999 to $320,490 last year. The savings in 2003 could be even greater. Based on costs through September, the county could end up spending just $140,000 on juvenile detention this year. Cheaper housing costs at the Kane County's juvenile detention center account for part of the savings, officials say. However, they note, the county would be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars more annually on juvenile detention without the home detention program.

“There's no doubt it's a savings,” Phillip Ulmer, Director of Probation and Court Services said. “(On Wednesday) we've got 14 kids on home detention. If just 12 of those kids were in juvenile detention instead, that's almost $1,100 a day we'd be spending.”

The annual cost of running the program, Ulmer said, is not much more than what the county would pay to keep two juveniles behind bars for a year. County officials say the savings goes well beyond just housing costs. Fewer juveniles in Kane County lockup means fewer trips for McHenry County sheriff's deputies to deliver them to and from court.

“The numbers are down to only a handful of transports a month, which was not the case a few years ago,” Undersheriff Gene Lowery said Wednesday. “It's helped us substantially.”

The home detention program is offered to a judge presiding over a juvenile case as both a pre-trial and sentencing alternative to putting a child behind bars.

Phillip Dailing, chief managing officer for court services' juvenile division, said the program works on three levels, each setting different restrictions on the child. The first places the child under 24-hour house arrest monitored with an electronic bracelet. He or she is allowed outside the home only for school and court-ordered counseling. The second and third stages carry fewer restrictions, allowing the child out of the home for school functions, family gatherings and other approved activities. Ideally, officials said, the youth, through his or her behavior, earns his or her way to the least restrictive level after four to six weeks in the program.

Lori Trout, the department's supervisor for juvenile special services, said instances of juveniles violating their restrictions are uncommon. Cases of one committing another crime while on home detention are even more rare. Proponents of the program say its benefits extend past its financial savings. Juveniles on home detention, they say, are less likely to commit another crime after release than those locked up. “It's a better option for some because they're dealt with in their home communities, they're able to stay in school and stay in touch with probation staff,” Trout said.

The program also requires parental involvement, a key factor in whether a juvenile offender commits another crime. Just as important, officials said, it places a level of accountability on the child and a chance to garner more freedom as he moves through the system.

“They really have to earn their way off the program,” Dailing said. “That's good because a lot of these kids have not successfully completed much in their lives.”

By Charles Keeshan


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