Money saved from closing a youth detention facility in Kewanee should be used to better staff other facilities across the state, according to the Illinois Justice Project.


The Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability will meet Wednesday to hear arguments for and against closing the Illinois Youth Center in Kewanee. Last month the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice announced its plan to close the facility at the end of June.


The state’s juvenile prison population has declined over the past decade, dropping from 1,600 to around 400. Currently, the Kewanee facility houses 95 youth inmates. Jim Bray, spokesman for the Illinois Justice Project, said the five remaining youth centers across the state have excess capacity.

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“That means the rest of the prison system can easily handle the youth that are being held in Kewanee,” Bray said.


The Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice said closing the Kewanee facility would save taxpayers more than $14 million annually. That’s money Bray says can be spent on enhancing programs at the other youth prisons and supporting local governments’ rehabilitative services.


“You have a larger pool of potential workers and volunteers to draw from,” Bray said. “They can do a much better job hiring and keeping fully staffed the prisons that are in the other locations.”


In 2013, the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice closed the juvenile prisons in Joliet and Murphysboro.


The state operates a juvenile detention facility in Grafton that, according to the state's website, houses an average of 35 youth on a daily basis.

Under state law, the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability must hold a public hearing on any state facility closure. That hearing is scheduled for 5 p.m. Wednesday at the Kewanee High School Gymnasium.