DECATUR, Ill. (WAND) – Richland Community College was the home base of a very important discussion Thursday. State and local leaders met for a Juvenile Justice Initiative forum.

The panel looked at ways to improve the current Juvenile Justice System at the state and local levels. In its newest report, JJI recommended juveniles be detained less. That's because detention can greatly shape a child's future.

“Children who are detained, even for short periods, tend to have profound issues later on in life, throughout their life,” Juvenile Justice Initiative President Elizabeth Clarke shared, “So they're less likely to go back to school and finish school. It makes it harder for them going on and getting a job. We want to make sure all our children can move forward."

As Clarke explained, the problems within the juvenile justice system didn't happen overnight.

"For a 20-year period between the 60's and 80's, the U.S. was focused on building up community colleges and community resources and pathways forward into a livelihood for our young people. We stepped back from that (and) we began investing in prisons instead,” said Clarke. “And now we have to turn the tide and go back."

Forum attendee Dr. Keyria Rodgers says one key to fixing the system is looking at ways to help youth before they become incarcerated.

"We're looking at domestic violence issues, we're also looking at ways people can have a better understanding of what's going on in the home from a trauma-informed practice, from a trauma-informed base,” Rodgers explained. “But also just looking at individuals ... (it's) mental health, substance abuse, trauma over time."

Unfortunately, the to-do list doesn't end there. Leaders now head back to their communities to face funding, education, and policy issues with the hopes of moving the juvenile justice system forward step by step.

WAND-TV will have more on these efforts in Macon County on Friday.

The Juvenile Justice Initiative meeting was organized at Richland Community College in large part by local advocate Reverend Courtney Carson. He has a large heart for bettering the community as a whole and especially its youth.

Carson wanted to thank Richland Community College for hosting the event, as well as everyone who made it to Thursday’s meeting to contribute to the conversation.