Ill. says Kewanee mental health fixes being sought

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice officials say they're aggressively seeking mental health professionals to fill posts at the Illinois Youth Center at Kewanee.

A report Thursday by the John Howard Association, a correctional-system watchdog, said mentally ill detainees at Kewanee should be removed until treatment services are adequate. It found only eight of 17 mental health posts filled at the facility the state has designated for severely mentally ill delinquent young people.

Juvenile Justice spokeswoman Jennifer Florent said in an email that the state's budget crisis has not impeded the agency. Kewanee is filling one mental health position next week and also will publicly post five social worker position openings.

"However, unfortunately, we have had very few interested and qualified candidates apply for those positions," she said.

Florent said social worker position posted recently drew three qualified candidates but none appeared for scheduled interviews. One person reached later indicated a loss of interest in the post.

"Based on the low number of applicants in the area, we are now pursuing other options to ensure youth are provided appropriate treatment," said Florent, who did not elaborate and did not respond to follow-up questions.

The John Howard report noted that Kewanee's remote location – 150 miles west of Chicago and more than ten miles south of Interstate 80 – has hampered recruitment. But the report said the state must overcome that with higher salaries or other incentives.

The report said Kewanee residents – the ones most in need of psychological services – receive only a half-hour of individual therapy per week, while everyone at the Warrenville youth center, in DuPage County, gets an hour plus the opportunity to participate in group therapy. When John Howard inspectors visited Kewanee in September, group therapy was only available to 18 of 195 residents who were suffering from both mental illness and substance abuse.

Florent said since the visit, Kewanee has added four weekly group-therapy sessions, two each for its Kewanee Special Treatment and Juvenile Sex Offender programs.

Additionally, Florent noted that a federal court approved a consent decree last week between the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing residents of state juvenile-justice centers, and the department to allow three independent, court-appointed experts to review the system and embark on a plan to fix any deficiencies.

According to the ACLU, a statewide survey of juvenile facilities found inadequate services in mental health and education and overexposure to "dangerous and unlawful conditions" through excessive room confinement and violence.

But a declining population of delinquent youths is one reason Gov. Pat Quinn wants to close youth centers in Murphysboro and Joliet. The Illinois Supreme Court ordered an end this week to legal tactics by a state government workers' union to keep them and other correctional facilities open.

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Online:

John Howard Association: http://www.thejha.org/

Juvenile Justice: http://www.idjj.state.il.us/

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