Watchdog urges thoughtful process on youth prison closures

  • Gov. Bruce Rauner hasn't yet said what criteria he'll use in picking a youth center or two to close.

    Gov. Bruce Rauner hasn't yet said what criteria he'll use in picking a youth center or two to close. Daily Herald File Photo

 
 
Updated 6/19/2015 1:11 PM

A top prison watchdog group says closing an Illinois youth prison or two, as Gov. Bruce Rauner suggests to save money, could be a good move if the governor takes his time and weighs all options.

Rauner this month floated the idea as a possible cost-saving move as the state heads toward a July 1 deadline with no spending plan in place. The administration is considering every youth center, including those in Warrenville and St. Charles.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Jennifer Vollen-Katz, executive director of the watchdog John Howard Association, said Illinois has space for 1,200 people in its youth system statewide but only an average population of 700, so closing one facility could free up money for treating juvenile offenders.

"We want to consider this a reinvestment, not just a money savings," she said.

Vollen-Katz said Rauner should take his time with the decision, weighing lots of factors in addition to cost and talking to all the people involved.

She said both the Warrenville and St. Charles youth centers have had infrastructure issues, but both are well-positioned for inmates to get visits from family because of their location in the Chicago area.

Warrenville is the state's only youth prison for girls and St. Charles is Illinois' largest.

"We hope that it will be a full and thoughtful process," Vollen-Katz said.

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Rauner introduced the idea weeks ago but hasn't said much about it since then. Once he picks a facility or two he wants to close, the move would spark advisory hearings by lawmakers.

A spokesman for the Department of Juvenile Justice didn't say how the governor plans to choose or when.

"Our review is ongoing," spokesman Mike Theodore said. "The department will need to conduct a comprehensive review of all facilities before commenting on closure criteria and timelines."

Lawmakers are set to meet again next week as their budget stalemate with Rauner continues. The state will lose its authority to spend money on most expenses July 1 unless Rauner signs a spending plan sent to him by lawmakers. So far, no agreement has been reached.

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