DuPage board members balking on youth home plan

Updated 8/24/2011 5:43 PM
  • DuPage County Board members aren't yet ready to draft an agreement with Kane County that could result in the closure of the youth home in Wheaton.

    DuPage County Board members aren't yet ready to draft an agreement with Kane County that could result in the closure of the youth home in Wheaton. Daily Herald file photo

DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin is vowing to win over board members who expressed apprehension this week about a proposal to keep the county's most troubled youth at a Kane County facility.

Meanwhile, Kane officials say they are willing to wait for a final answer.

For months, officials have been talking about the possibility of transferring detainees from DuPage's youth home to the Kane County Juvenile Justice Center, a regional facility in St. Charles with youth detainees from Kane, DeKalb, Kendall and McHenry counties. If approved, the deal also would give Kane the opportunity to move its adult work release inmates to the DuPage County Juvenile Detention Center in Wheaton.

But in a surprise 8-8 vote, the DuPage board's finance committee on Tuesday night failed to give Cronin permission to negotiate a possible agreement with Kane.

"It's up to DuPage to make a decision as to what they want to do," Kane's Chief Judge F. Keith Brown said Wednesday. "We stand willing and able to assist them. I think on our part we've done a fine job of showing what Kane County has to offer."

Some DuPage board members expressed concern that they might be forced to approve the final agreement -- even if the financial terms end up being unreasonable. Others pointed to the fact that several judges and law enforcement officials want to see DuPage's youth home stay open.

"We have heard from our experts in our county," board member Jim Zay said. "(They) said it's not a good idea. We're talking about an agreement, and no one has showed us any plan ... how this is going to happen."

Board member Robert Larsen said he's looking for alternative ways to get the board approval so the negotiations between DuPage and Kane can proceed.

"I'm not going to give up on the proposal," said Larsen, who supports partnering with Kane. "We have to at least look at it."

Larsen said he is worried this week's non-decision is going to give Kane officials the impression that DuPage isn't serious about the proposal. "Nobody is playing games here," he said.

Board member Jim Healy said the only reason he voted no is because he wants the county to have a budget plan that keeps the youth home open in case the deal with Kane falls through.

"Think of it from a negotiations standpoint," Healy said. "In negotiations, you don't want them to know that you've already pulled the trigger."

Otherwise, Healy said he agrees with those who say the proposal would save taxpayers money by pooling together the resources of both counties.

DuPage officials estimate the county would save at least $800,000 annually. In addition to getting a new revenue source, Kane would see a drop in its per-person costs for running its facility because of the added inmates.

"I'm convinced that the program that they offer in Kane County is an excellent program," Cronin said. "And you could argue that it is perhaps even more advanced (than DuPage's facility) in some respects because of the resources that they have."

With 80 beds, Kane's facility has room for the additional juveniles from DuPage, officials said. While DuPage's youth home was designed to house up to 90 juveniles, its average daily population has dropped to about 24.

In order to win support for the proposed partnership with Kane in the coming weeks, Cronin said he will give board members the information they need to make a decision.

"I am determined to win you over on this," he said to the board, "because I think it's the right thing to do."

Brown said Kane's offer still stands regardless of DuPage's timeline or ability to revive the proposal.

"We have beds that are available, and I don't see that changing in the near future." Brown said. "From our perspective, we were a good program before; we're still a good program now."