Illinois Youth Center - Warrenville
Illinois Youth Center - Warrenville
IYC-Warrenville is Illinois' only co-ed facility. The facility is located approximately 45 minutes from downtown Chicago, in DuPage County.
The John Howard Association (JHA) conducted a full monitoring visit of Illinois Youth Center (IYC)-Warrenville (Warrenville) on Thursday, April 26th, 2018. As one of the smaller of facilities run by the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ), IYC-Warrenville has the staff and resource capacity to provide their youth with timely, comprehensive, and individualized services.
Youth’s treatment and required programming is guided by a multi-disciplinary team of staff throughout the institution, including security staff, mental health providers, case managers, and psychiatrists, among others. During these team meetings, a youth’s progress is discussed in a variety of areas, and interventions or alternative plans of action are developed based on the youth’s needs. As a result, all of the youth’s treatment is personalized to match the youth’s unique circumstances.
Another strength of IYC-Warrenville are the opportunities for programming inside and outside the institution, which are the result of diligent efforts by administrators. One of their more popular and highly regarded programs, the “Pawsitive Futures Dog Program,” involves youth “housetraining” a shelter dog who temporarily resides in the facility. It took many years of planning and organizing, both with external organizations as well as within IDJJ, to get this program up and running. Warrenville administration has engaged in a similar process to have college courses offered at the facility. At the time of this report, the program has been running for one semester, we look forward to observing the program on our next visit.
In addition to programming, IYC-Warrenville places a strong emphasis on mental health treatment. At IYC-Warrenville is the only facility where every youth requires mental health treatment. The youth-to-therapist ratio is low compared to other IDJJ facilities, and this offers mental health providers the opportunity to see youth on their caseload multiple times per week, if necessary. Youth are also offered a variety of psychotherapy groups, and 40% of time in therapy is spent conducting sessions with families. IYC-Warrenville administration has also prioritized shortening the amount of time it takes to address youth mental health crises. Of note, is the use of and quick response to the Mental health referral form, a form which usually requires a 24-hour period in which to be responded, is usually handled within an hour at the facility. Of concern, despite the focus on mental health, is that analysis of mental health data related to youth diagnoses and medication prescriptions reflects that youth are being prescribed psychotropic medications with sedating side effects in the treatment of behavioral problems.
Taken altogether, because of both the size of the facility, as well as the diligence and efforts made by IYC-Warrenville administration and staff, the facility seems to be equipped to manage high-risk justice system involved youth. The focus on mental health, the robust offerings of programming, a fully functional school, and limited behavioral disruptions and staff assaults, all contribute to a more rehabilitative environment for youth than other IDJJ facilities are able to provide.
Throughout 2016 there were numerous statewide changes to Illinois’ juvenile justice system and facilities. It is helpful to view the changes at Warrenville in this context, which includes population shifts due to the decrease in the number of youth, particularly girls, in state custody and the closure of IYC-Kewanee (Kewanee). These changes ultimately resulted in there being five remaining IDJJ facilities, four male youth centers3 and Warrenville, which adapted from a female to a coed facility in March 2016. The John Howard Association of Illinois (JHA) visited Warrenville in April and December of 2016. The primary concerns reported by staff at the facility related not to the coed transition, but to the ongoing lack of a state budget.
After receiving the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation grant in 2015, IDJJ announced its comprehensive strategic plan focusing on five core priorities: to right-size; rehabilitate; reintegrate; respect; and report. These changes, in conjunction with legislative reforms, led to a 44% decrease in IDJJ population over the 2016 fiscal year.5 Right-sizing involved front-end, facility-based, and post-release reforms. In addition to diversion, this work involved getting low risk youth out of facilities quicker, and fewer youth being returned to custody for violations of post-custody release conditions with Aftercare, which had also been shortened, as had been recommended by JHA and others for years.
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.
Warrenville embodies many of the best practices of a secure confinement juvenile facility. Since 2013, administration has worked to increase staffing levels, particularly in the areas of education, mental health, and security. At the time of JHA’s 2014 visit, Warrenville reported a 3 to 1 student-to-teacher ratio, a 6 to 1 youth-to-mental health staff ratio, and a 4 to 1 overall youth-to-staff ratio, representing substantial increases over 2013 staffing levels.
Administrators’ efforts to ensure that all youth have mental health services, and that facility policies and practices are applied with consistency have helped Warrenville to move from a punitive culture to a culture that is rehabilitative and supportive. This cultural shift is evidenced in the facility’s limited use of confinement isolation as a disciplinary measure, and its reliance on de-escalation techniques and positive behavioral reinforcement as alternative means to encourage pro-social skills and discourage negative behavior.
Alongside increasing staffing levels, Warrenville’s population decreased this year, from 46 at the time of JHA’s 2013 report, to 32 youth at the time of our 2014 visit.3 The percentage of Warrenville’s population incarcerated for parole violations also decreased substantially. This represents an important change, given that parole violators have historically been a major driver of IDJJ’s population. Further, data confirms that youth facilities like Warrenville that maintain small populations and high staffing levels have low rates of sexual abuse and victimization.4
The cost of holding girls in secure confinement at Warrenville nevertheless remains extraordinarily expensive, amounting to over $200,000 per year per girl.5 Although a small number of serious young offenders require secure confinement facilities, most youth at Warrenville are “low-risk and high-need,” meaning they pose little risk to public safety, but enter the juvenile justice system with significant educational, social, psychological, and personal needs. Community-based treatment settings, like those established under the Missouri Model, have proven to be far less costly than secure confinement, and far more effective at rehabilitating youth, maintaining community safety, and reducing recidivism.6 Using small, community-based treatment alternatives located near youths’ homes also has the advantage of allowing youth to establish healthy community ties and mentor relationships, and to maintain family connections.
The decline in the number of youth incarcerated at Warrenville this past year—particularly the decline in parole violators—as well as the overall decline in the number of youth in IDJJ custody as a whole, are positive signs that juvenile justice reform is taking hold in Illinois. However, for Illinois to achieve the dramatic results of other states in improving youth outcomes, reducing costs, and increasing public safety, we must reduce our reliance on juvenile secure confinement much more in the coming years, and invest our limited resources in community-based alternatives instead.7
This report focuses on observations and information from JHA’s 2014 monitoring visit and changes since the prior facility report.
On September 18, 2013, the John Howard Association visited IYC-Warrenville, Illinois’ medium and maximum-security girls’ facility.
Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice’s (IDJJ) only girls’ facility. Warrenville houses medium and maximum-security girls and is located approximately 30 miles west of Chicago.
This report examines the following issues: Physical Plant and Living Conditions; Staff/Youth Relations; Education; Programming (Pregnancy, Parenting, and Reproductive Health Programs, Substance Abuse Treatment, and Arts Programs); Mental Health Treatment; Outside Recreation, Exercise & Leisure Activities; Family Contact and Visitation; Confinement & Discipline; and Special Populations (Paroled Youth and Gay and Transgender Youth).
On January 14, 2011, the John Howard Association conducted a monitoring visit at IYC-Warrenville. Warrenville is designated as a maximum security facility, but houses all maximum and medium security girls in the system. The facility is located approximately 45 minutes from downtown Chicago, in Dupage County.
Approximately a month before our visit, the facility experienced a number of strong power surges. The surges were caused by ice that had built up on power lines combined with high winds. The ice and winds knocked out power in nearly every building in the facility and disabled the generators. Many computers, dietary equipment, and other electronics were also damaged and required repair. Due to these damages, the administration cancelled school and moved all of the youth into one housing unit for two weeks. On the date of our visit, most of the problems had been remedied, but the main generator was still waiting to be repaired.