Indulge us while we dive into some sobering statistics.
On any given day, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, over 48,000 youth in the United States are confined in facilities away from home as a result of juvenile justice or criminal justice involvement.
Of those, a vast majority are in locked facilities. There’s 16,858 in detention centers and another 10,256 in long-term secure facilities. And then there’s the 4,535 who’ve found themselves in adult prisons and jails.
And these numbers represent significant decreases in confined youth in our nation. Since 2000, the number of youth in confinement has fallen by 60 percent, the policy initiative group reports.
Clearly, we have a problem. Is the problem our youth sentencing laws or is it that our nation’s youth need some guidance and support? We argue it’s likely a bit of both.
Thankfully, for the youth of Kankakee County, a good dose of that guidance and support is here. And his name is Hamim Lillard, Kankakee County’s new community outreach specialist. In the most recent Weekend Edition, you read about Lillard and a newly created initiative of Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe’s office, Kankakee School District 111 and the Kankakee County Board.
The position’s job description calls for the individual to address and raise awareness on pressing public safety issues including the opioid epidemic, gang and gun violence, domestic violence and teen dating violence, sexual assault, mental health and homelessness, truancy, suicide and animal abuse.
The position calls for Lillard. He knows the system because he was in the system, both as a foster kid and as an inmate. Lillard tells us he was pulled from the depths by the guidance and support he received from a few caring souls he encountered during his time in the prison. He’s now in a position to lead others out using the same path he took. And better yet, he’ll have the chance to intersect the paths of youth in our community who are heading in the wrong direction.
We have high hopes for the lives Lillard will surely change in his new role.