Article  |  Juvenile Corrections

The use of incarceration to address juvenile delinquency: Court evaluation admissions to the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice

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First in a series.


Court evaluations, new commitments, and technical violations are three ways in which youth may be admitted to the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, the state’s juvenile corrections agency. A juvenile found delinquent by the court may be admitted to the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ) for a court evaluation. Evaluation findings document the particular needs of the juvenile and are reported to the court within 90 days. Based on the court evaluation, a youth may be sentenced to treatment and supervision within the community or returned to IDJJ to serve an indeterminate term. Juveniles also may be admitted to IDJJ as a new commitment from juvenile court following a finding of delinquency or for technical violations.

This article is the first of a three-part series examining the use of incarceration to address juvenile delinquency in Illinois. This article examines admissions to IDJJ for court evaluations, focusing on what changes in admission trends have occurred and how these changes have impacted the profile of youth entering IDJJ for court evaluations.

Regional differences and changes in admissions

The statewide admission rate for court evaluations of youth increased between state fiscal years 1993 to about 2004, peaked, and then decreased from 2004 to 2015 to lower than or close to the 1993 rates. Decreases were found across most regions of the state. Particularly large declines were noted in the combined admission rates for counties located in the central and southern regions of the state (Figure 1).

Cook County1 was a notable exception. Cook County court evaluation admissions to IDJJ increased during the latter part of the period examined, though a recent slight decline is noted. Admissions to IDJJ for court evaluations from Cook County remained relatively low from FY93 to FY05, particularly when compared to the rest of Illinois.2 Increased admissions for court evaluations began as early as FY01, but the largest increase occurred in FY06. Court admissions for court evaluations from Cook County hovered between 159 and 228 admissions per year from FY06 to FY15.

Although counties in the central region of the state saw a marked decline in the IDJJ admission rate for court evaluations, the combined rate for that region was notably higher than other regions of the state and the overall state rate.

Changes in the profile of youth admitted for court evaluations

Cook County accounted for the largest percentage of the state’s admissions for court evaluations in recent years. In FY15, 70.3 percent of admissions for court evaluations were from Cook County, up from 18.8 percent in FY05 and 6.4 percent in FY95 (Figure 2).

In comparison, Cook County accounted for 47.0 percent of the state’s new court admissions and 49.5 percent of the admissions for technical violations in FY15.

Changes also were seen in the offense types and specific crimes for which juveniles were admitted for court evaluations. Admissions for evaluations from Cook County for violent offenses occurred at a slightly greater average percentage from 2006 to 2015 than prior to 2006, at 38.5 percent and 32.6 percent, respectively. A similar change was noted in the combined counties outside of Cook,3 at 34.4 percent and 29.7 percent, respectively.

Changes in crime type were noted prior to and after 2006. Cook County experienced an increase in the percentage of court evaluation admissions for person and property offenses, and decreases in admissions for illicit drug crimes (Figure 3).

Racial and ethnic impact

Black youth from Cook County and counties outside of Cook were most impacted by use of incarceration for court evaluations, with the percentage of Black youth admissions increasing over time (Figure 4).

Gender impact

A minor shift in gender composition also was seen. Prior to 2006, males accounted for, on average, 92 percent of Cook County admissions and 85 percent of admissions from counties outside of Cook. Since 2006, those percentages have increased to an average of 95 percent and 87 percent, respectively.

Implications for policy and practice

Understanding the use of incarceration to address juvenile delinquency is important because of the associated individual, familial, and community costs. Research on juvenile correctional facilities highlights the difficulties these institutions face in treating the complex needs of juveniles in their care, including providing treatment and educational services for youth who present a variety of needs.4 Placement in correctional facilities may interrupt the natural crime desistance process,5 temporarily impede social maturation,6 and place youth at increased risk for developing situational depression.7 Correctional placement can frustrate existing prosocial bonds and attachments that have shown to protect youth from further offending; periods of incarceration can, for instance, disrupt educational attainment.8 Incarceration also can increase the likelihood of reoffending and delinquent behavior by providing an avenue through which criminal networks are expanded and peer support for criminal behavior is strengthened.910

These findings reveal regional and county-level differences in the use of IDJJ for assessment purposes, and that changes over time have altered the profile of youth entering IDJJ for this purpose. In particular, Black youth were most impacted by the use of IDJJ for court evaluation purposes. Further research is needed to fully understand the disparate use of IDJJ for court evaluation and to understand whether current practices and policies, which overwhelmingly impact Black youth, are achieving their goals.

  1. Youth who enter as a court evaluation are sometimes called “bring-backs.”
  2. Includes court evaluations for all individuals sent to IDJJ regardless of age.
  3. Counties outside of Cook were combined due to the relatively small number of admissions.
  4. Mendel, R. A. (2011). No place for kids: The case for reducing juvenile incarceration. Baltimore, MD: The Annie E. Casey Foundation. Available at:
  5. Holman, B., & Ziedenberg, J. (n.d.). The dangers of detention: The impact of incarcerating youth in detention and other secure facilities. Washington, DC: Justice Policy Institute. Available at:
  6. Dmitrieva, J., Monahan, K. C., Cauffman, E., & Steinburg, L. (2012). Arrested development: The effects of incarceration on the development of psychosocial maturity. Development and Psychopathology, 24, 1073-1090. doi: 10.1017/S0954579412000545.
  7. Kashani, J. H., Manning, G., W., McKnew, D. H., Cytryn, L., Simonds, J.F., & Wooderson, P. C. (1980). Depression among incarcerated delinquents. Psychiatry Research, 3, 185-191.
  8. Hjalmarsson, R. (2008). Criminal justice involvement and high school completion. Journal of Urban Economics, 63(2), 613-630.
  9. Dishion, T. J., McCord, J., & Poulin, F. (1999). When interventions harm: Peer groups and problem behavior. American Psychologist, 54(9), 755-764.
  10. Bayer, P., Hjalmarsson, R., & Pozen, D. (2007). Building criminal capital behind bars: Peer effects in juvenile corrections. Cambridge, MA: national Bureau of Economic Research.

Megan Alderden, Ph.D.

Megan Alderden is research director of the Authority’s Research & Analysis Unit and the Illinois Statistical Analysis Center. Ms. Alderden joined the Authority in June with 16 years of research experience in the field of criminal justice working as an academic and practitioner. Prior to joining the Authority, Ms. Alderden was an associate professor of criminal justice at Saint Xavier University, and preceding her work in academia, Ms. Alderden was a researcher for the Chicago Police Department and the Authority. Ms. Alderden’s most recent research focuses on sexual victimization and issues in policing. She is currently working as a co-principal investigator on a project examining evidence-based practices in homicide and sexual assault investigation in Illinois and on a federally funded study examining the impact of forensic evidence on prosecutorial decisions and court outcomes in sexual assault cases.

She is also a researcher with the National Police Research Platform, where her work focuses on police diversification, police culture, and the civilianization of police agencies. She has published in several government reports and articles in scholarly journals. Ms. Alderden received her doctorate of philosophy in criminal justice with a gender and women studies concentration from the University of Illinois at Chicago, her master of science degree in criminal justice from Michigan State University and her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Calvin College.

All articles in this series
The use of incarceration to address juvenile delinquency: Court evaluation admissions to the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice
Part 1 | March 16, 2016
Court evaluations, new commitments, and technical violations are three ways in which youth may be admitted to the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, the state’s juvenile corrections agency. This article is the first of a three-part series examining the use of incarceration to address juvenile delinquency in Illinois. Admissions to IDJJ for court evaluations is examined, including admission trends and the impact court evaluation admissions have had on the profile of committed youth.