With Gov. Pat Quinn and Illinois' AFSCME union locked in a protracted lawsuit over the governor's intention to close state prisons, the public debate often focuses on overcrowding in the state's adult prison system. But the situation in the state's eight juvenile prisons is vastly different. The eight juvenile prisons have a bed capacity of 1,754 youth and a population below 1,000. This low juvenile population, which has declined by more than 200 since Quinn took office, is due in large part to the successes of less costly, more effective community-based services like mental health care, substance abuse treatment and family-focused support.
Why should Illinois waste tax dollars on overhead and upkeep of eight juvenile prisons, when consolidating the juvenile prison into six prisons could save millions? The juvenile prisons are so far from being overcrowded that the system would still be under capacity if the youth prisons in Joliet and Murphysboro, which has no prisoners but still has guards, were closed as Quinn has advocated.
Closing those two youth prisons carries the potential savings of nearly $14 million annually. That's money that could be spent better on proven programs to keep teens out of trouble and out of prison and to help youth leaving prison change behaviors and remain out of prison.
Closing at least two youth prisons will allow tax dollars to be spent more efficiently and improve opportunities for young people, while protecting public safety.
George W. Timberlake
Chair, Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission