Report finds youth center may violate rights

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014 11:42 p.m. CDT

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS – An Illinois youth center may be violating the constitutional rights of juveniles, according to a report by a correctional system watchdog group.

The report findings by the advocacy group, which indicate the Illinois Youth Center in St. Charles is understaffed. The report released Tuesday states the center is low enough on staff that youth are potentially not receiving their constitutional right to an education and mental health treatment.

The problems come after the Joliet facility closed, which in turn doubled the population of the St. Charles youth center.

Jennifer Vollen-Katz, the group's juvenile justice director, said closing the Joliet was still the right thing to do even if the increased St. Charles population has become a problem.

"How you change the facility to adjust to the new population, that's still a work in progress," Vollen-Katz said.

The report states the facility employs half the teachers needed for a newly doubled population, and a low number of security workers also limits the youths' access to education. Security guards are used to transport youth between classrooms. So when guards are transporting some juveniles to court hearings, the facility is left with too few security workers for transport.

Observers were told students sometimes did a half-day of school every other day, and that students were placed in isolated confinement for longer periods of time. The reports called this "troubling" because it means less rehabilitation time.

Vollen-Katz said this doesn't help students reform into society.

The Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice responded to the report in a statement saying its "goal is to ensure youth become productive citizens, and we are closely reviewing the issues raised in the report."

The department is assessing staffing levels and trying to quickly fill vacancies, the statement said. It also has hired outside experts to improve the facility.

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