Report: Youths on suicide watch don't have safe beds

Updated 7/8/2011 8:30 PM
  • Illinois Youth Center in St. Charles.

    Illinois Youth Center in St. Charles. Daily Herald file photo

  • The Illinois Youth Center in St. Charles, seen from the soccer fields of neighboring Westside Community Park.

      The Illinois Youth Center in St. Charles, seen from the soccer fields of neighboring Westside Community Park. LAURA STOECKER | Staff Photographer

SPRINGFIELD -- Two years after a child committed suicide at the St. Charles youth prison, the facility doesn't have safe beds that could prevent such a death in the cells juveniles are held in while they're on suicide watch, a prison watchdog group reported Friday.

A 16-year-old committed suicide at the facility in September 2009. Since then, so-called safety beds have been installed for some of the population.

Safety beds have rounded corners that make it hard for someone to hurt themselves, and there's nowhere on the bed frame to tie anything.

But the confinement unit, where youths on suicide watch are kept, still has standard beds, the Chicago-based John Howard Association report said.

Chris Bernard, the association's Juvenile Justice Project director, said it's not necessarily the facility's fault -- a dearth of funding and a slow-to-move bureaucracy all contribute to the problem.

Still, he said, it's critical to have safe beds for youths on suicide watch.

"There's absolutely nowhere you could tie anything to," he said of safe beds. "There are no sharp corners."

A spokesman for the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice said the agency just received the report Friday and will talk to the staff about possible "corrective actions."

"We received the report, and we're reviewing it," said spokesman Kendall Marlowe.

The youth facility came under fire for the conditions there after the suicide two years ago.

But the association's report Friday outlines a number of what association officials think are deficiencies observed on a visit in May.

Among their complaints: Children in being treated for an illness don't have access to schooling and children can't access all of the center's open space because of a lack of staff. Buildings are in rough shape, with one of two boilers being broken, missing light switch cover plates, dirty bathrooms and three maintenance workers set to retire this summer.

Low staff levels also meant that bicycles donated to the center for children to use had to be sent elsewhere because there wouldn't be people to maintain them.

The lack of staff has been a consistent complaint of both prison watchdogs and prison guard union officials for years, as the state budget crisis has limited hiring.

Still, the association praises the fact that the new superintendent, David Hicks, has a background with an emphasis on treatment of youths. And, the report says, reception and classification processes at St. Charles have been streamlined.