The proposed closure of a state juvenile detention center is good for taxpayers, youth, families, communities and the entire state. That’s according to the director of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice. However, the closure is expected to be a blow to the Henry County economy. Director Candice Jones said in a news release the department cannot continue to operate six facilities across the state with a nearly 990 bunks when they only have around 435 youth in their care. Jones said the decision is also about transitioning Illinois to a new model of rehabilitating youth in accordance with national best practices. Meanwhile the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois also said the closure is a good thing. ACLU staff attorney Lyndsay Miller says the Kewanee facility was too remote to properly staff. “And with the decrease in population, as we’ve seen over the last year,” Miller said, “these youth can better be served in other facilities that have better staffing levels.” Miller said the closure also addresses concerns raised in a consent decree between the ACLU and IDJJ to better provide more quality services to juveniles in state custody. “This facility has traditionally housed some of the neediest youth requiring mental health services, as well as general services, and education and others, as required by the consent decree,” Miller said.
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That 2012 consent decree focused on five areas: education services, mental health services, general safety and wellbeing, length of confinement and the use of solitary confinement. The ACLU says the closure is a step in the right direction, though IDJJ will still be observed by a court appointed monitor. IDJJ said in their closure announcement they will partner with proven, effective nonprofits to provide resources to low-level juvenile offenders while only leaving secure custody to the highest risk youth. Jenny Vollen-Katz, executive director of the prison reform group the John Howard Association, applauded the closure and said her group has been lobbying to close the facility for some time. “Taking the funds that would otherwise go toward keeping the institution open and putting them into community based services for youth is a huge step in the right direction,” Vollen-Katz said. “We know that youth do best when given the services in their communities,” Vollen-Katz said, “and our best chance in keeping them from a life of crime is to help them early with intervention.” Meanwhile Henry County Economic Development Partnership Chairman Lynn Sutton said he didn’t know about the announcement and that it will be a blow to their local economy.