Illinois to close youth correctional facility in Kewanee
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration announced Friday it will close the youth correctional facility in Kewanee, news that delighted a civil rights group but distressed employees who worried about alternative housing for maximum-security offenders.
Illinois Juvenile Justice Director Candice Jones said the move would save money, offer young offenders rehabilitation in less-restrictive community settings and improve community safety.
"Youth do best when we work with them in the most appropriate, least-restrictive setting," Jones said in a statement. "That means partnering with proven, effective nonprofits to provide resources and work with youth in the communities. It also means that secure custody in state facilities should be reserved for only the highest-risk youth."
Department spokesman Michael Theodore said the Kewanee site, which opened in 2001, would be shuttered July 1.
Neither Theodore nor Jones explained how much the closure would save or how the savings would be spent.
The American Civil Liberties Union applauded the announcement, saying the state had been required to reassess youth detention following a lawsuit it won in 2012.
"We hope that this is just the first announcement regarding the closing of a youth detention facility, and that we can move to a day when Illinois detains fewer juveniles in far-flung parts of the state," ACLU staff counsel Lindsay Miller said in a statement.
But the union that represents 189 of 203 Kewanee staff members said Jones and other administrators "blind-sided" staff with the announcement during the facility's 6 a.m. roll call.
Anders Lindall, spokesman for the state council of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, voiced concern about what would happen to the sex offenders and other maximum-security offenders who were transferred to Kewanee after a youth detention center in Joliet was closed in 2013.
"It's particularly hypocritical for the department to claim in its statement today that it wants facilities dedicated for special purposes such as maximum-security inmates only when it had such a facility, Joliet, closed it and sent that population to Kewanee over the objection of employees, advocates and our union," Lindall said.
Theodore said the department is "assessing where youth from Kewanee will be relocated based on their risks and treatment needs."
The closure would leave youth centers in Chicago, Harrisburg, Grafton, St. Charles and Warrenville. Jones said the state houses 436 young offenders and after Kewanee is closed, the system would have 683 beds.
"That is enough capacity to comply with best practices, and account for seasonal fluctuations in the number of youth confined," Jones said.
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