Illinois Youth Center - Kewanee

Illinois Youth Center - Kewanee


IYC-Kewanee was a mixed medium and maximum-security facility for boys. Located about two and a half hours west of Chicago, Kewanee served several distinct purposes for the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ), including providing 24-hour infirmary care and housing youth suffering from acute mental illness, youth labeled juvenile sex offenders (JSOs), and youth designated maximum-security. It is now closed.

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Monitoring Reports

Executive Summary

Kewanee continues to be a deeply problematic facility that struggles to meet minimum standards of care.2 The facility has longstanding difficulty attracting and retaining the staff needed to maintain safety and ensure appropriate care is provided to several, distinct high-risk and/or high-need youth populations (youth suffering from acute mental illness, labeled juvenile sex offenders, and designated maximum-security), each of which receive separate housing and services at Kewanee.3 Limited family contact, a shortage of community and volunteer involvement, and lack of effective communication between youth facing new charges and their counsel are also ongoing problems. Further, although the facility has a high rate of youth on crisis and suicide watch, the physical layout of the cells used for these purposes are poorly suited, and the rest of the facility is largely still not equipped with safety furniture.

JHA recognizes that implementing major institutional reforms is a difficult process and during our 2014 visits, many staff and administrators displayed exceptional commitment and motivation to improve the facility, despite extremely challenging facility conditions. IDJJ officials stated there are many planned improvements at Kewanee in the works; nonetheless, there remain deep-rooted, intractable problems at Kewanee that have not been corrected over the past several years. It is no longer acceptable to simply reiterate and acknowledge the challenges facing Kewanee. To ensure the protection of youth, staff, and the public, IDJJ must rectify these issues and ensure minimum standards of care, safety, and rehabilitative treatment can be provided. The continuing failure to remedy these issues presents a grave and obvious risk of serious harm to youth, staff, and the public. Given Kewanee’s enduring history of systemic dysfunction, Illinois must also seriously consider the wisdom of continuing to invest resources in a facility that has persistently struggled to meet the needs of youth. However, any transitional plan must be thoughtfully undertaken, to minimize risks of the necessary shift to smaller facilities that will better be able to address individual youth’s needs.

Executive Summary

On July 11, 2013, the John Howard Association (JHA) visited Illinois Youth Center-Kewanee (Kewanee), a blended medium and maximum-security male juvenile facility located two and a half hours west of Chicago. Kewanee is designated to serve as the special treatment facility for the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ) and houses youth with the most acute mental illness as well as the juvenile sex offender population. It is charged with treating some of the most troubled, vulnerable youth in our state’s juvenile justice system, and now houses youth deemed maximum-security either by virtue of either the severity of their committing offenses or due to their aggressive behavior within IDJJ. Kewanee also serves youth in need of 24-hour medical supervision due to illness or injury. Taken together, the youth at Kewanee have a higher need for attention, supervision, and treatment than the population of any other youth facility in Illinois.

During JHA’s visit and the drafting of this report, mental health and educational experts were in the process of finishing their evaluations of IDJJ’s facilities based on a federal consent decree initiated through a class-action lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Illinois. These reports, which were published on September 23, 2013, provide a thorough and detailed account of mental health and education programming, which you can find on the ACLU of Illinois’ website at JHA will use this report to update our 2012 findings, which focused on the facility’s severe lack of mental health treatment staff, as well as to comment on changes to the operations at Kewanee brought about by the recent closure of two IDJJ facilities, IYC-Joliet and IYC-Murphysboro.

Since JHA’s last visit in October 2012, Kewanee has hired more mental health professionals and moved some of its mental health population to other facilities. However, the facility still suffers from a 280-hour weekly shortage of mental health treatment hours, and lacks adequate staffing in vital areas such as education and recreation. More problematic, IDJJ’s administration tasked Kewanee with absorbing IYC-Joliet’s maximum-security population following the facility’s closure in February 2013. This displaced population includes a significant number of youth who have been re-incarcerated because they have repeatedly violated their parole conditions or because they have been charged with an adult crime in Cook County while still on juvenile parole.1 As a result, more than half of Kewanee’s overall population on the day of JHA’s visit was composed of parole violators.

Executive Summary

On September 6, 2012, the John Howard Association (JHA) visited Illinois Youth Center-Kewanee (Kewanee), a medium-security male juvenile facility located two-and-half-hours west of Chicago. Kewanee is designated to serve as the special treatment facility for the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ). It is charged with treating some of the most troubled, vulnerable youth in our state’s juvenile justice system. Kewanee’s express mission is to provide “a wide range of intensive treatment programs” including “psychiatric, medical care and counseling services” to “youth with severe mental health issues, substance abuse problems and sex offenders” on a “12 hours a day, seven days a week” basis.

Apart from its institutional mission, Kewanee also has an affirmative legal duty under the U.S. Constitution and the Illinois Juvenile Court Act to provide the juveniles in its custody with access to adequate mental health care and rehabilitative treatment. Due process dictates that where the state assumes a parental role by taking custody of a delinquent juvenile, it cannot at the same time abdicate parental responsibility by failing to provide that juvenile with requisite supervision and care, including effective mental health and rehabilitative treatment. Further, the state has an affirmative legal duty not to place minors in the care of parties which it knows are unable to provide necessary supervision, care, and treatment.

Executive Summary

On June 16, 2011, JHA visited IYC-Kewanee, a specialized medium security facility for boys in western Illinois. Kewanee essentially functions as two separate facilities. Kewanee specializes in treating juvenile sex offenders (JSOs) and youth in need of more intense mental health treatment. The two populations are kept separate for all of the day-to-day operations.

The only solutions for many of the issues discussed in this report and other JHA reports are either more money for the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) or fewer youth in the facilities. Reducing population will not only save the state money, but also better serve the youth and public safety. Research indicates that community-based services are not only much cheaper than incarceration, but also more effective at rehabilitating youth and preventing recidivism.

There are many ways to reduce population. In particular, JHA recommends two steps. First, divert non-violent offenders to community-based programs. Many such programs could be created by further funding Redeploy Illinois. Second, make the re-incarceration of youth for technical parole violations an absolute last resort. DJJ’s pilot Aftercare Program, which replaces adult oriented surveillance practices with youth oriented support, is a promising step in this direction, but will take a significant amount of time to implement state wide. In fiscal year 2011, 552 of the 1056 court admissions to DJJ were for non-violent offenses. Another 973 admissions were for technical parole violations. Together non-violent new offenders and technical parole violators made up 70 percent of total admissions to DJJ. Even a modest reduction in both of these categories could reduce DJJ’s population significantly.