Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=216369
Story Retrieval Date: 3/7/2014 10:55:30 PM CST
By Paige Sutherland/MEDILL
The only maximum security prison for male juveniles, the Illinois Youth Center-Joliet, is closing Friday. All detainees will be relocated to youth centers at St. Charles, Kewanee, or Harrisburg.
The closest of these is more than 40 miles from the Joliet facility; the furthest is 330 miles away. None of these facilities are easily accessible by public transportation
This added distance will make it difficult for families to visit their loved ones, leaving youths without the emotional support they need, said John Maki, executive director of the John Howard Association of Illinois, a prison reform advocacy group in Chicago.
“Integrating families and making sure families are involved is critical to the rehabilitation process,” said Maki, who is in favor of the juvenile closings, but thinks the system should provide other resources to families. “It is important that the system works to strengthen the life these youths will return to once released.”
In early December the Illinois Supreme Court allowed Gov. Pat Quinn to continue with his plan to close several correctional facilities across the state. Tamms, the only maximum security prison in southern Illinois, closed in January along with the juvenile detention center in Murphysboro and three halfway houses for inmates.
According to the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, the juvenile population is at a historic low. All six facilities, not including the two closing, have the capacity to hold approximately 1,205 youths, only 890 are currently detained. Both Joliet and Murphysboro were significantly under capacity.
Due to the success of prevention and diversion programs, fewer youths are entering into the juvenile system, said Jennifer Florent, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice.
Redeploy Illinois, which opened in 2005, was designed to reduce the number of youths within the juvenile justice system by offering education assistance, counseling and case management services within their communities. In St. Claire County, Redeploy Illinois has reduced the number of juvenile detainees by 71 percent over the past five years. All eight sites have saved the state a total of more than $40 million in unnecessary incarceration costs, according to a 2011 report.
With the closing of the two juvenile detention centers, the state will save almost $24 million dollars a year, said Brooke Anderson, spokeswoman for the governor’s office.
Karrie Rueter, juvenile justice specialist at the Illinois Department of Human Services, supports the closures, but said the money saved should be used to facilitate family visitations. She has not heard of any future plans within the department to do so.
A 2012 report by the state of Illinois said most juveniles come from neighborhoods in which 87 percent of the families are below the poverty line. Some of these families do not have access to cars and can’t afford to take work off to travel the added miles to visit those detained.
Resources such as transportation for loved ones to and from the facilities, extension of visiting hours, or Skyping with family members, should be offered to the families in need, Maki said.
“In order to treat kids differently from adults, the system has to recognize that kids have families. If they don’t address their entire life, including the family structure, it is very difficult to help a child change their behavior once released,” he said.
Elizabeth Clark, president of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Initiative, also agrees with the closures, but said family engagement has always been a big issue for Illinois's Juvenile Justice Department.
“I have been to all of the eight facilities, and have asked, ‘Do a lot of families come visit?’—And the answer is always no,” Clark said.
View Illinois Juvenile Youth Centers in a larger map
The trip from the Joliet facility to Harrisburg is 330 miles, five hours by car, and inaccessible by public transportation. The Kewanee facility is 110 miles away from Joliet, which is two hours away by car and almost six hours by public transportation. St. Charles is 45.2 miles away, an hour by car, and almost five hours by public transportation.