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updated: 8/8/2012 8:33 AM

Prison watchdog: St. Charles youth center now has safety beds

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SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois Youth Center St. Charles has installed safety beds intended to prevent suicides, a prison watchdog group reported Tuesday.

Last year, the John Howard Association criticized the facility for not having the beds available for youth on suicide watch two years after a 16-year-old committed suicide at the youth prison.

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It's difficult to tie things to safety beds, and they have rounded corners intended to prevent injury.

"At the time of our visit, all of the youth at St. Charles were housed in cottages that were outfitted with the new safety beds and furniture," the association's report says. "The cottages which had not received the new beds were not being used."

A spokesman for the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice wasn't immediately available for comment.

The report praised interactions witnessed between staff and youth, calling them "casual and positive."

But the report also raised lingering concerns about the physical state of the facility.

"St. Charles is an unusual criminal justice facility. It sits on 126 picturesque acres of fenced-in land, and when the razor wire that surrounds the facility is not visible, the grounds have the feel of a small college campus rather than a youth prison," the report says. "However, as noted in past reports, the facility is in desperate need of repair."

The state has given the facility $5 million for repairs and upgrades as the St. Charles center likely would get youth from the center in Joliet, which has been targeted for closure soon by Gov. Pat Quinn.

Unions have protested the closures, saying more crowding could lead to more violence in both prisons and youth centers.

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