Illinois Youth Center - Joliet

Illinois Youth Center - Joliet


IYC-Joliet was Illinois’ only maximum-security facility for boys. It is now closed.

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Monitoring Reports

Executive Summary

On June 21, 2012, the John Howard Association (JHA) visited IYC-Joliet (Joliet), Illinois’ only maximum-security facility for boys. On the date of our visit, it appeared as if Joliet was going to close on October 31, 2012. However, since our visit, this has become increasingly unclear, as a restraining order issued in September temporarily prohibits Governor Quinn from shutting down the facility pending the completion of bargaining with the staff’s union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), over the impact prison closures will have on workers.

While JHA supports the proposed closure of Joliet, the purpose of our visit was to examine and assess the facility’s operations and programming. Due to the facility’s seemingly imminent closure, JHA staff and volunteers spent less time on the physical plant and observing specific units within the facility and more time focused on talking to the administration and youth. Specifically, we engaged in a dialogue about the special populations at the facility, what approaches and programs serve them best, and possible transition options for them within the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ).

On our visit, JHA found that many of Joliet’s programs are currently limited due to the rising number of staff vacancies, mostly created by staff taking early retirement or leaving for other positions due to the possibility of the facility closing. While JHA understands that Joliet cannot completely control this situation, staff vacancies have created serious problems. JHA is also concerned that staff vacancies have led to less outdoor recreation time facility wide for youth.

Apart from its potential closure, JHA found that in many ways the most significant problem that Joliet faces is creating and maintaining a cohesive identity while housing three distinct populations with very different needs. First, Joliet holds so-called “consent decree youth.” This population is comprised of older youth who were on juvenile parole, but have returned to IDJJ because they are currently facing adult charges in Cook County. Second, Joliet houses youth in the Parole Reentry Program (PRP). This program is for youth who have been found to be in technical violation of parole, meaning they were not in compliance with reporting requirements, missed school, missed meetings with a parole officer, failed drug tests, or some combination of similar conditions. The PRP runs for 90 to 120 days and is designed to help youth acquire the skills to prevent their future return to IDJJ or to the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC). Finally, Joliet holds maximum-security youth, which includes the juvenile felon population. Juvenile felons are youth who have been convicted of crimes in criminal court and are facing adult sentences. They are not old enough to begin serving their time in the IDOC, so they are sent to Joliet.

Joliet’s administration reported that they have made efforts to use de-escalation tactics with greater frequency. While administration told JHA that these efforts have resulted in less youth in confinement and a more individualized and multi-systemic approach in all youth issues and incidents, we did not receive information to verify these reports. The administration also reported that the creation of more multidisciplinary committees, which are composed of staff members and administrators from different parts of the facility, has led to innovative approaches to youth issues in the facility and reflects a positive culture shift to strategize about why a youth misbehaves and trying to intervene in a non-punitive way.

One of the longstanding criticisms of Joliet is that it has the look and feel of an adult prison. The physical plant at Joliet, which is stark, institutional, and framed by razor wire, conflicts with IDJJ’s mandated mission, which is to move away from an adult correctional model and embrace a more rehabilitative, youth-centered approach to treatment. While Joliet’s administration report that they are embracing this approach, their efforts are undercut by the institution’s penal atmosphere.

Executive Summary

On April 21, 2011, the John Howard Association visited IYC-Joliet, Illinois’ only maximum-security facility for boys. Below is a report of our findings and recommendations.

In preface to these findings, we observe that many inadequacies in the care, treatment, and conditions of confinement of youth at Joliet, and other facilities, are due to a lack of funding. Under its current budget of $152 million, the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) struggles to provide programming, education, and mental health services to incarcerated youth. Additionally, many DJJ facilities are in a state of critical disrepair and in need of renovation, if not demolition. This situation is likely to deteriorate further if the legislature pursues its current proposals of (1) reducing DJJ’s budget by an additional $10 million and (2) reducing funding for Redeploy Illinois—a cost-effective program that places youthful offenders in rehabilitation and treatment programs in their own communities instead of incarcerating them. (See Appendix A for a breakdown of the proposed budget cuts.)

Since its implementation in 2005, Redeploy Illinois has helped to reduce the number of incarcerated youth and deliver comparatively less expensive but more effective rehabilitative services to young offenders. The resulting economic savings to the state have been substantial. In 2010, the eight county sites that used Redeploy Illinois reduced the average number of youth committed to DJJ by 53 percent, resulting in a savings of over $9 million to the state.1 Impressively, Redeploy Illinois achieved these results with an operating budget of $2.5 million.

Consistent with sound public and fiscal policy, JHA proposes that the budget of Redeploy Illinois be increased to $5 million, as this would significantly reduce the number of incarcerated youth, allow more effective, community-based rehabilitative treatment to be delivered to a greater number of youth, and double the economic savings to the state. The resulting reduction in DJJ’s population also would allow DJJ to improve the services provided to high-risk, incarcerated youth—who, in the absence of adequate treatment and rehabilitative services, are more likely to reoffend and cycle back through the criminal justice system as adults.

While there was no specific gender responsive policy that aimed to reduce the number of girls in IDJJ custody, nationwide efforts to reduce gender disparities and promote gender responsive policies and practices may have inadvertently had a positive residual effect on the number of girls remanded to state custody. Simultaneously, policy changes made in 2015 and 2016 in Illinois reduced the overall youth population in state custody from more than 700 youth at the beginning of 2015, to under 450 in early 2016. Warrenville, as the IDJJ facility housing girls, saw an even more drastic proportional population decrease from highs around 40 girls to commonly housing fewer than half that number, around 15, as IDJJ and other stakeholders worked to move lower risk and need youth out of facilities and keep them in communities.7 Projections suggested these numbers would continue to fall. Prior to becoming a coed facility in March 2016,8 administrators noted that at one point in late 2015 they were down to housing just eight girls due to efforts in right-sizing the juvenile incarcerated population.

Warrenville administrators attributed the smoothness of the transition to becoming a coed facility in part to the number of youth in IDJJ being at an all-time low, as well as their having a very high staff to youth ratio, as now required throughout IDJJ by both the R.J. litigation and juvenile federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) standards. They stressed that the high staff to youth ratio is critical to the facility’s success. Administrators also noted that a culture shift is taking place among staff in terms of focusing on treatment and rehabilitation rather than punitive measures, and stated that at larger facilities it is much harder to change institutional culture. Warrenville administrators lauded the benefits of being fully staffed and having a smaller facility, in that there is a big difference between managing a cottage, or housing unit, with just six youth, and managing one with more than 20 youth, as is the case at the larger facilities, in terms of the services and individual attention that can be offered.

In contrast to the well-staffed, small, treatment focused environment modeled at Warrenville, was the more challenging environment at Kewanee, which in early 2016, IDJJ announced plans to close.11 JHA’s prior reports on Kewanee, as well as the expert reports in the R.J. litigation,12 documented the history of persistent systemic understaffing and programmatic dysfunction at that facility, which threatened the overall well-being of youth and staff. The Kewanee closure, achieved in July 2016, would have ripple effects throughout IDJJ due to the need to accommodate some higher risk and need boys who were historically housed at Kewanee in other facilities, these include male youth suffering from acute mental illness, labeled as juvenile sex offenders (JSOs), and designated maximum-security.

Due to changes within IDJJ, it was necessary to change the makeup of the remaining facilities to meet the contemporary population’s needs and composition. Part of the overall shift included designating Warrenville as a coed facility. This report focuses on observations and information from JHA’s 2016 Warrenville monitoring visits and notable changes since our prior facility reports.