Juvenile prisoners with mental health problems aren’t getting the help they need, even in the state’s only facility that can hold them, according to a report. The report from the John Howard Association (JHA), a prison watchdog group, claims that Illinois Youth Center in Kewanee doesn’t have enough staff to treat its mentally ill inmates. That has resulted in youths being kept in their cells instead of receiving treatment.
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“This has effectively become a warehouse,” said John Maki, the association’s executive director. Maki said understaffing has been a problem for years at Kewanee, which is the state’s only designated facility for kids with mental illnesses and those charged with sex crimes. Maki believes the problem has gotten worse thanks to the addition of the maximum-security population previously held at a facility in Joliet before it closed in February.
“So a facility that was…already designated for a very difficult population, the state added kids who are classified as maximum security folk. So they’ve essentially made this difficult, complicated facility even more complicated,” Maki said. The John Howard Association has asked circuit court judges to stop sending boys with mental health problems to the juvenile justice system.
The rest of the youth prison has been accused of the same staffing problems. A class-action lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice last year, and the two sides have been discussing a plan to resolve those issues.