June 12, 2015

No decision made yet on youth prison closures

6-12-15 Illinois:

SPRINGFIELD -- More than a week after Gov. Bruce Rauner said he would close up to two state-run juvenile prisons as part of a budget-cutting move, his administration still isn't saying which facilities are on the chopping block.

Asked Wednesday for an update on the status of the closures, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice said a study of the matter is underway.

"The department will need to conduct a comprehensive review of all facilities before commenting on closure criteria and timelines," spokesman Mike Theodore noted.

Rauner, a Republican, announced his plan to close up to two of the state's six juvenile prisons earlier this month as part of a response to the passage of a spending plan that is more than $3 billion out of balance.

Along with closing youth prisons, the governor's plans include shuttering the Hardin County Work Camp -- a minimum-security adult prison in southern Illinois -- and state museum facilities. He also plans to cut off funding for heating and cooling assistance for low-income Illinoisans, as well as slash spending on programs that help the poor with child care costs and the elderly stay out of nursing homes.

He also suspended ongoing efforts to build the proposed Illiana toll road connecting Interstate 55 in Will County with Interstate 65 in Indiana.

In outlining the cuts, Rauner blamed Democrats who control the General Assembly for the unbalanced budget. Two of the six youth centers are represented by Democrats, raising concerns that those are being targeted.

The Illinois Youth Center-Chicago, located on the city's west side, is represented by state Sen. Patricia Van Pelt and state Rep. Pamela Reaves-Harris, both Democrats.

The Harrisburg youth prison is represented by state Sen. Gary Forby of Benton and state Rep. Brandon Phelps of Harrisburg, also both Democrats.

Youth facilities in Kewanee, Pere Marquette, St. Charles and Warrenville are in GOP territories.

Jennifer Vollen-Katz, executive director of the John Howard Association -- a Chicago-based prison watchdog group -- said choosing a facility might be tough.

"Each youth facility has its own kind of personality and strengths and weaknesses," said Vollen-Katz.

Warrenville, for example, is an all-female lockup. Pere Marquette features a more open setting designed to help offenders in their transition back to the outside world.

Kewanee offers treatment programs for sexual offenders and a mental health wing.

Harrisburg serves a large population of male offenders from downstate Illinois. Vollen-Katz said it is important for youth to be jailed closer to home in order to make connections with family easier.

"That certainly argues for facilities spread throughout the state," Vollen-Katz said.

Unlike the state's overcrowded prison system, the number of offenders in the youth system has been dropping. Three facilities have closed in the past dozen years, including Murphysboro, Joliet and Valley View.

Currently, the system has about 1,200 beds, but only 700 are filled.

Vollen-Katz said the Rauner administration should take its time in deciding which facility or facilities to close. And officials should include as many stakeholders as possible in the process, she added.

"I would look at a lot of different factors," Vollen-Katz said. ..Source.. by KURT ERICKSON

No comments: