Juvenile inmates unable to receive proper schooling, staffing shortages, and allegations of abuse by juvenile justice officials were topics at a state House committee meeting Wednesday.
The House Juvenile Justice Reform Committee heard the testimonies of staff membersá from the Illinois Youth Center-St. Charles during a Wednesday afternoon hearing.
“I think it’s evident from the hearing that there are definitely problems,” said committee member Rep. Patricia Reid Lindner, R-Sugar Grove.
Of particular concern to Lindner were the staffing issues, particularly a shortage of teaching staff and the lack of a permanent director since the new Department of Juvenile Justice was created in May 2006.
“It’s been over a year, and there has been no permanent director appointed,” she said.
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees staff representative Debby Lippincott said the juveniles in the facility’s care are supposed to receive five hours of school a day, but often only see two.
“I think a lot of important issues were raised. I think the legislators were extremely concerned over the educational programming – or rather the lack of educational programming – at IYC- St. Charles,” Lippincott said.
Also, she said the 40 hours of training staff receive a year is the same as it was under the Department of Corrections. The Juvenile Justice Department was created to do better for the youth facilities.
“I think collectively, a number of legislators were concerned that creating this department wasn’t the panacea they were hoping it would be,” Lippincott said.
The complaints allege that Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice officials, during an unannounced visit to the facility, handcuffed and “berated” a juvenile inmate, state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, said in a statement. The officials also threatened staff with their jobs, she said.
“There wasn’t any commitment given by the department to follow up on that, but I would be very surprised if there wasn’t an investigation, or rather a full investigation on that,” Lippincott said.
IDJJ spokesman Derek Schnapp said he had not heard of any alleged incident before the hearing was scheduled, but that the department would likely investigate.
“Any type of allegations are investigated at our facilities. We take things very serious. We don’t take them lightly,” he said. “We don’t know of any abuse and we investigate any allegations.”
The facility is one of eight in the state and the only one in the Fox Valley area since IYC-Valley View closed in 2002. IYC-St. Charles narrowly avoided the Valley View facility’s fate in 2004.
In March of this year, employees held a news conference saying that funding cuts were making the 103-year-old prison more violent and less likely to rehabilitate the inmates, aged 13 to 201⁄2