Illinois Youth Center - Harrisburg
Illinois Youth Center - Harrisburg
IYC-Harrisburg is a medium-security facility for male youth located in southeastern Illinois, about 30 minutes from the Illinois-Kentucky border. Harrisburg serves as the southern reception and classification center for IDJJ male youth.
The John Howard Association (JHA) conducted a full monitoring visit of Illinois Youth Center (IYC)-Harrisburg (Harrisburg) on May 14th, 2018. In our tour of the facility, the school and vocational programs are operating well, and youth appeared engaged with the instruction and the material. Many youth are employed in various positions throughout the institution, including dietary where food for youth and staff are prepared and delivered.
IYC-Harrisburg has received notoriety of late concerning its treatment of youth, both within and outside the facility. Inside the facility, youth are reporting physically abusive treatment by staff, resulting in physical injury Additionally, when youth have assaulted staff, the involved staff have filed charges as citizens with the State’s Attorney’s office. Since this practice began in late 2015, approximately twenty youth have faced adult prosecutions, resulting in 14 youth being sentenced while 6 youth have pending cases.
In our investigation of the circumstances surrounding this increase in charges being brought against youth, it was revealed that staff who are pressing charges feel that the current protocol for management of disruptive behavior, or Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), is not effective compared to the previous method of intervention, the use of solitary confinement and restraints. In order to be in compliance with the consent decree in the ongoing R.J. v. Mueller
litigation, alternatives to solitary confinement had to be enacted, and though IYC-Harrisburg pioneered PBIS in the school system years prior to its implementation throughout IDJJ, some staff have been reluctant to utilize PBIS as the primary means of controlling behavior. Their reluctance is, in part, warranted, as the documentation on PBIS does not appropriately discuss ways to manage extremely disruptive behavior, and for some older youth, incentives provided through PBIS do not
seem to impact their behavior. In order to manage problematic behavior, youth are placed on either a “targeted” or “intensive” intervention plan, which require careful planning by multiple staff members, which are discussed in weekly staffing meetings. The staff report that these interventions, though labor-intensive, are effective if implemented correctly.
Another less-discussed method of managing problematic behavior is through the use of psychotropic medication. A total of 68 youth are prescribed psychotropic medications, which is 66.6% of all youth who receive mental health services (102). However, in examining the empirical support of these medications as it relates to youth, along with the most prescribed medications and diagnoses at IYC-Harrisburg, youth there are being prescribed medications for disorders for which there is no established effectiveness. One commonly-prescribed medication, Quetiapine (Seroquel), is shown to be effective for youth with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. When prescribed to those without such conditions, however, the medication is a strong sedative. Seroquel was reported as being a commonly prescribed medication at IYC-Harrisburg, and neither schizophrenia or bipolar disorder was mentioned as common disorders among IYC-Harrisburg youth, raising the issue of sedating anti-psychotic medications such as Seroquel being used to manage youth behavior in cases where PBIS is not responsive.
Taken together, the reports from youth about treatment from staff, high numbers of youth being prosecuted on adult charges, and use of psychotropic medication that is not indicated for what it is being prescribed for, it is clear that IYC-Harrisburg, as well as the other large IDJJ facilities, lack the ability to successfully manage youth behavior. The inability of IDJJ to create a rehabilitative and restorative environment for youth has led to physical and psychological harm, as well as adult convictions where youth are being sentenced in adult facilities. Of the methods of addressing youth disruptive behavior, the “targeted” and “intensive” interventions, seem to be the most effective. However, these interventions require a great deal of staff effort and coordination, which is challenging to enact facility-wide or to a larger set of youth. Tailored interventions similar to those enacted in IYC-Harrisburg may be better implemented in smaller facilities where more individualized attention and support can be provided to each youth.
For more than 110 years, JHA has served as Illinois' independent juvenile and adult prison watchdog. Our work is rooted in our history and mission, which is not to advocate for any one particular point of view, but rather to use everything we learn about Illinois’ prisons to drive reform that benefits everyone impacted by the justice system. Our reports include prisoners’ perspectives—as well as staff and administration’s perspectives—because we believe that along with other information we gather through our monitoring process, they give our readers invaluable and otherwise inaccessible information about prisons and the experiences of people who live and work in them. This is consistent with best practices and international human rights guidance on prison monitoring, which all emphasize that “talking with persons deprived of their liberty forms the basis of the process of documenting the conditions of detention.”
We begin our executive summary with this brief note on our methodology because it cuts to one of the dominant themes in our monitoring of IYC-Harrisburg: Of all of Illinois’ juvenile correctional facilities, JHA has repeatedly observed that both former and current youth at Harrisburg have the most issues about the treatment they receive from staff on a consistent and independent basis. Alongside these accounts, JHA also has detected noticeable tension between youth and staff, which we have not observed elsewhere. While youth we talked to told us that staff oftentimes subjects them to various forms of unprofessional conduct, staff interviewed told us that cultural prejudices of youth towards staff factor into this dynamic, noting that youth commonly label staff as rednecks.
In conjunction with our findings and recommendations on the facility’s operations, which include noting several important achievements like reducing confinement, we believe that it is essential for the administration to address Harrisburg’s culture, which has a profound influence on everything that happens in the facility. We also believe that this is an opportune moment for the facility and the agency to focus on this effort. This year marks the beginning of state audits for compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which will impact policy and operations in all facilities in an effort to provide greater inmate safety. Also, as of April 7, 2014, a federal court judge accepted the remedial plan written and agreed to by IDJJ and the ACLU of Illinois, which addresses lapses in constitutional standards related to institutional conditions, education, and mental health treatment. We hope this report—and our role as a non-partisan monitor—can help inform this critical work.
On March 23, 2011, the John Howard Association visited IYC-Harrisburg, Southern Illinois’ Medium Security facility for boys.