Summit paints grim picture of IL juvenile detention centers


At a Wednesday summit, advocates for juvenile justice reform took up the most recent slate of complaints about Illinois’ juvenile detention centers. Investigative reporting just last month found unsanitary facilities and incidents of young people being mistreated, with a focus on the Franklin County center. The nonprofit Juvenile Justice Initiative has other ideas for housing minors until their trial dates. Elizabeth Clark, founder and board treasurer of the initiative, said if the goal is rehabilitation, detention centers are not doing the job.

“It is simply like adult jail,” Clark observed. “In Illinois, we’ve been very intentional about making sure that kids who are found guilty of an offense are not sent away to prison, unless there’s no other alternative.”

Clark’s group favors community-based treatment programs but she pointed out detention before trial can apply to kids as young as 10. Minors can be committed to the Illinois Department of Justice if they are guilty of a felony and are at least age 13. According to the state, most youths in juvenile detention are age 17-20.

Staffing shortages and lack of medical and mental health services are among the complaints from a ProPublica investigation with Capitol News Illinois, published last month. It found no independent agency either licenses or certifies juvenile detention centers in Illinois, and suggested an overhaul of the system to strengthen oversight.

One case — of a teen whose arm was broken by a guard trying to handcuff him, and who went without medical care for hours — is not an isolated incident, according to Clark.

“We are now finally seeing a light shone on the conditions in these juvenile detention centers; really, really troubling conditions,” Clark asserted. “As a result, there’s a lawsuit against one of them by the ACLU; Franklin Jefferson.”

The website reported only four of the state’s 16 detention centers were in “full compliance with state standards” last year.

And despite taxpayers footing the bill through a state subsidy for staffing, Clark noted the counties pay for the centers’ operational expenses.

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