Illinois Youth Center - Chicago

Illinois Youth Center - Chicago


Illinois Youth Center-Chicago (IYC-Chicago) is a male medium-security Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ) youth facility located on west side of the city of Chicago.

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Monitoring Reports

Executive Summary

The John Howard Association (JHA) conducted a full monitoring visit of Illinois Youth Center (IYC)-Chicago (Chicago) on April 11th, 2018. As the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice continues to work towards compliance with the consent decree in the ongoing R.J. v. Mueller litigation, each facility faces its own unique set of challenges. For IYC Chicago, the challenges come in the form of staff deficits in the school and lack of daily programming to keep youth engaged.

The physical plant at this facility continues to be a blessing and a curse; the location allows youth opportunities that are unavailable in any other IDJJ facility in terms of off-site activities and volunteers and individuals from the community being able to come into the facility more easily. The downside is that there is virtually no outdoor space for youth to recreate in, depriving them of much needed large motor activities, fresh air, and a chance to see blue sky, clouds and trees. While the facility has ongoing physical plant issues requiring repair and maintenance, one noteworthy difference about this facility is that it is a leased building so it is incumbent upon the land lord to address these problems. This has led to some problems for the facility, for example, the weekend prior to the JHA visit, the sprinklers were activated in the facility, and neither the staff nor did the Chicago Fire Department have easy access to the water pumps to stop the flow of water, leading to flooding in some areas. Another issue has been ability to repair and maintain the water heater in order to control the temperature of the showers, which JHA staff verified through their own testing as being very cold.

Administrative staff reported a recent wave of exhibitionistic behavior by approximately 15-20 youth in the facility, which involved the unsolicited exposure of their genitals to an unsuspecting staff member and in some cases, youth masturbating in front of staff. IYC-Chicago administrative staff have responded by temporarily disconnecting cable television throughout the institution, addressing the youth behavior on an individual level, and have implemented other facility-wide interventions. These interventions seem to have taken hold, it was reported that in the months following, the exhibitionistic behavior decreased in the facility. However, JHA staff also observed a surprisingly casual communication style between staff and youth in the facility, noting that youth openly insulted staff, which was often reciprocated with insults of the youth. These two sets of observations of staff/youth interactions generate concern about levels of respect, trust and effectiveness of communication between youth and staff, and the negative impact a lack of these things can have on behavior and facility operations.

JHA was pleased that youth are provided with ample opportunities to make phone calls and have family visits, given the importance of family engagement and support to a youth’s success. However, JHA received two separate reports from youth that they were unable to speak with their Spanish-speaking mothers because IYC-Chicago staff could not monitor their phone calls due to the language barrier. It is unacceptable to deny youth the opportunity to speak with family because the facility lacks monitoring capacity in this regard. Youth who speak, or have families that speak, languages other than English should not be limited in calls because of this. IDJJ must either develop monitoring capacity for these calls or find a different way of listening to them for this purpose, not limit these youths ability to call home. JHA brought this to the attention of administrative staff, who reported that they are addressing the situation.

IYC-Chicago administrative staff are incorporating restorative justice practices as a way for youth to decrease time added to their sentence as “set time” which is time that is added due to behavioral infractions. Youth are also provided additional rewards through their “Chistubs” program, where youth are directly given a reward by staff members for positive behavior. Though JHA was impressed by IYC-Chicago’s attempts to encourage positive behavior in the institution, we found the extended wait list and overall length of the substance use program to be troubling. Youth are often held beyond their original release date because they wait to participate in substance use treatment, and when they do participate, much of the programming provided could be taught in a shortened, or separate, curriculum. As IYC-Chicago seeks to improve youth behavior and increase educational opportunities for youth, for best outcomes and use of resources, it is important to consider that the treatment provided to youth is necessary, effective, and concise.

Executive Summary

The John Howard Association of Illinois (JHA) conducted monitoring visits to IYC-Chicago (Chicago) in late January and early February 2016. The instant report reflects the information obtained as a result of those visits and provides an updated profile of the facility.

There have been significant changes at Chicago since JHA’s last monitoring report. Specifically, over this period changes have been implemented throughout IDJJ and at Chicago in response to litigation that has impacted operations in significant ways. In September 2012, the ACLU of Illinois filed a lawsuit against the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ) on behalf of all youth confined in IDJJ facilities that alleged unconstitutional conditions and services, including: inadequate education and mental health services, as well as excessive use of solitary confinement. As a result, IDJJ and the ACLU entered into a consent decree in December 2012, which called for the creation of a remedial plan that was approved in April 2014. The remedial plan requires IDJJ to provide educational, mental health and other rehabilitation services, develop, revise and implement policies and procedures regarding the provisions of services, and improve youth-to-staff ratios. The obligations under the plan bring IDJJ back to a rehabilitative, rather than punitive, mission. While the changes have taken time to implement and further change is necessary, the transition to a system that embraces positive youth development was evident during JHA’s more recent monitoring visits at Chicago.

This report focuses on: 1) the population and physical makeup of the facility; 2) programming and community engagement; 3) health and wellbeing; 4) case planning; 5) family contact; 6) behavioral management reforms; 7) restraints, incidents and grievances; and 8) education.

Executive Summary

On January 29, 2013, the John Howard Association (JHA) visited IYC-Chicago (Chicago), a male, medium-security youth facility located on the west side of Chicago, Illinois. The instant report provides updated information on changes that have occurred since our last visit and monitoring report of May 11, 2012.

Since that date, Chicago and IDJJ have undergone major adjustments. Most significantly, Chicago has twice changed Superintendents, and the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ) has closed two youth facilities, IYC-Murphysboro (a male minimum security youth facility) and IYC-Joliet (a male maximum-security youth facility).

The relocation of staff and youth resulting from facility closures presents serious challenges for Chicago, which has absorbed staff and potentially some of the youth from IYC-Joliet. It also presents serious challenges for IDJJ as a whole. Institutional practices, conditions, routines, and cultures often vary greatly between individual facilities. Moving and adapting to new environments can be highly stressful for staff and youth alike. Transfer to new facilities disconnects youth from prior peer support networks. Youth may find themselves further from home and family, generating increased feelings of anxiety and alienation. Staff also must assume new duties and integrate with staff at new facilities that have unique cultures and different methods for managing youth.3 When the makeup and profile of a facility’s youth population changes, programming, staffing, and staff training also necessarily must be reevaluated and modified to meet the needs of the new population.

Executive Summary

On May 11, 2012, the John Howard Association (JHA) visited IYC-Chicago (Chicago), a male, medium-security youth facility located on the west side of the City of Chicago. This report examines the following issues: Physical Plant and Living Conditions; Youth Populations; Mental Health Treatment; Gay and Transgender Youth; Staff/Youth Relations & Grievances; Programming, Education & Discipline; and Volunteers.

Executive Summary

IYC-Chicago was designed as a maximum security juvenile facility to house the anticipated explosion of juvenile “super-predators” predicted to emerge in the early nineties. The predictions proved inaccurate, however, and responding to actual needs, IYC-Chicago serves as a minimum security facility with a particular focus on youth who are within six months of their release dates.

The contradiction between the maximum security design of the facility and the youth incarcerated there is stark. The only outside recreational area is a concrete basketball court in an area that doubles as a sallie port with a loading dock—this area is closed during the winter. Moreover, youths’ rooms closely resemble prison cells. Although slightly bigger than the average adult prison cell, the rooms are barren and heavy metal doors lock from the outside. Adding to the sterility of the rooms, all property must fit in and be kept in a property box. IDJJ is currently looking to end the use of property boxes, but lacks the necessary funding to implement the change.

Some walls in the facility are covered with murals painted by past residents. Though new murals are not prohibited, there is no one with the responsibility of coordinating new murals. An Art Therapist position could solve this problem, but funds for new positions are scarce. There are also some program themed posters and other inspirational signs, but for the most part the walls remain blank and are painted in neutral tones.

As JHA has noted in the past, the facility lacks any foliage. Indoor plants could add a great deal of warmth to the facility, and are particularly important since many of the youth are unable to go outdoors for months at a time. During our visit the facility was decorated for Christmas with donated artificial trees and other decorations administration could acquire on their limited budget. Although the decorations were not impressive in scope or quality, they went a long way to soften the facility. Seasonal decorations throughout the year would be a great way to add warmth.