News Local/State

Court Diversion Program For Young People Debuts New Home

The new home of the Youth Assessment Center in Champaign.

The new home of the Youth Assessment Center in Champaign. Anna Casey/Illinois Public Media

Champaign County’s Youth Assessment Center links young people who may have had run-ins with law enforcement, or been referred by social service organizations, with support services to divert them from the juvenile court system. But the center recently lost the free building space it had been provided by the Unit 4 school district in downtown Champaign.

The center relocated in April to a facility on Round Barn Road in Champaign. During an open house event Thursday evening at the new location, Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz said the new home for the center was made possible in part by private donations from Jimmy John Liautaud, the founder and owner of Jimmy John’s Sandwiches. Liautaud’s gift provided funding for the center for the next three years, according to the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission, an intergovernmental group that runs the program.

Addressing a small crowd during a presentation to recognize the center’s supporters, Reitz said she reached out to Liautaud about helping to finance the center’s work.

“I said, ‘I’ve got this program. We need a space, and we need some help,'” Reitz said.  “And he immediately said that ‘sounds great,’ and has been all in ever since.” Liautaud was unable to attend the event, but a representative accepted a plaque on his behalf.

Reitz, the chief prosecutor for Champaign County, added that she views the program as a way to prevent young people from ending up at the courthouse.

“If I don’t have to see the kids who come to this building because they get the opportunities that they need to improve themselves and their lives without coming to the courthouse, we have all won.” 

Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz addresses guests at the Youth Assessment Center open house on August 9. 

Anna Casey/Illinois Public Media

Youth Assessment Center coordinator Jonathan Westfield says the center provides at-risk kids with an alternative. “With successful completion of our program, there can be no criminal adjudication or criminal delinquency associated with their name to that incident. They’re able to resolve this without actually having to sit in court.”

The center has case managers on site who provide screenings to connect clients ages 10 to 17, and their families, with services ranging from anger management classes to job search assistance for parents. The Youth Assessment program began in 2013, and has assisted more than 3,100 pre-teens and teens throughout the county, according to the Champaign County Regional planning commission.