DuPage may close youth detention center

Updated 6/21/2011 6:15 PM
  • DuPage County officials are considering the possibility of closing the youth detention facility in Wheaton.

      DuPage County officials are considering the possibility of closing the youth detention facility in Wheaton. SCOTT SANDERS | Staff Photographer

Increasing operating costs at the DuPage County Juvenile Detention Center have some questioning whether it might be time to close the facility.

DuPage Chief Judge Stephen Culliton on Tuesday told members of the county board's judicial and public safety committee that DuPage could save about $400,000 a year if it closed its youth home and started sending detainees to a facility in Kane County.

No decisions were made. The full county board would need to approve any outsourcing proposal.

If board members decide to keep the youth home open, they would need to come up with more money to pay for it. Culliton said the Wheaton facility is facing a projected $400,000 shortfall in its operating budget for 2012.

Supporters of the outsourcing idea say DuPage's youth home has been underutilized in recent years. The center, which was built in the mid-1990s to house 90 youths, has an average daily population of about 24.

Still, Judge Robert Anderson said closing DuPage's youth home isn't an acceptable alternative. He said he's "baffled" the idea is even being considered.

"DuPage County has always been a leader in all sorts of areas," said Anderson, the presiding judge of the domestic relations divisions. "Closing this facility is not leadership. Closing this facility is a mistake.

"It will not be good for our children," he said. "It will not be good for our families. And ultimately, it won't be good for our community."

Anderson told board members that they would regret a decision to transfer detainees to another county because DuPage has a great facility. He said the various programs offered at the youth home provide "the best options for rehabilitation."

But board member Robert Larsen said county officials must be good stewards of the taxpayers' money. Expenses at the youth home continue to climb even though staff was reduced and the facility was reconfigured to have 32 beds. One reason for that is fewer state funds.

Meanwhile, Larsen said Kane has a facility offering programs that are "very similar" to the programs offered at DuPage's youth home. He said DuPage could provide additional resources to Kane.

"We can make sure that the populations of both counties receive the best available services," Larsen said.

Officials have said the DuPage youth center's population numbers fell because efforts to deter juvenile crime, including neighborhood resource centers, are working.

Anderson said closing the facility would cause DuPage to lose control over some of the services used to help kids.

"The purpose of the juvenile court system is twofold," Anderson said. "One is to serve the best interest of the juveniles in the system. The other is to protect public safety. Neither purpose will be served by closure."