[Sandy Bressner file photo - firstname.lastname@example.org]
[Employees at the Illinois Youth Center in St. Charles held an informative picket Aug. 28, 2017 to protest alleged unsafe working conditions at the facility and to demand change. On April 19, 2018, a riot broke out among the youths at the facility resulting in a serious injury to a staff member.]
However, in testimony Dec. 5, 2017, before the Illinois House Appropriations-Public Safety Committee, ACLU attorney Lindsay Miller said the consent decree calls for:
• Improved staffing ratios for security, education and mental health staff
• Creation and implementation of an agency-wide behavior management system that provides a consistent model for youth behavior throughout all facilities
• Full-time education and vocational training opportunities, enhanced mental health assessment and treatment, and other programming to eliminate youth idleness
• Improved staff training on effective behavioral management, conflict resolution and de-escalation techniques, and mental health and trauma needs of youth.
“Security and education staff shortages and lack of staff training have hampered change, and particularly at IYC-St. Charles, have interrupted education and general programming,” according to Miller’s testimony as posted on the ACLU website, www.aclu-il.org.
“Understaffed facilities cannot successfully manage youth, and chronic understaffing and turnover has resulted in increased youth idleness, frustration and misbehavior,” according to Miller’s testimony. “ … The department is also undergoing a significant culture change, as staff learn to operate in a system that, rightly, no longer permits the use of punitive solitary confinement.”
Miller also called for the state to provide adequate funding to implement the terms of the consent decree.
Landrus said the youth not having consequences for their actions is the biggest area of contention between staff and administration over the consent decree.
“The youth have no safety. The staff have no safety. The youth basically run the facility,” Landrus said. “We are there trying to help the youth. What management is doing is not helping them, with no consequences for their actions. Management sets no boundaries and makes no attempts to correct the bad behavior. And in the long run, we are sending those youths back to the community worse than when they came in.”
Landrus agreed that having little programming for the incarcerated youth contributes to their violent acting out, Landrus said.
“With very little programming, they’re locked in their cells all the time,” Landrus said. “The environment that we work in is so hostile, we are not able to protect ourselves or our youth – whom we are there to protect. We’ve had a youth who had his ears bitten off and another with brain damage from … having his head bounced on the ground.”
Staff members have a fear of the youths' use of urine and feces as weapons as well as sexual aggressiveness of boys toward female staff, Landrus said.
“All the Juvenile Justice Centers are absolutely insane,” Landrus said. “That’s why I orchestrated the picket in August on Route 38. … We are not safe.”
Landrus said their lack of safety is also evidenced by 50 staff members on workman’s compensation due to injuries inflicted on them by the youths.
A joint status report to the court on Feb. 23, supports Landrus’ assessment, stating, “Beyond hiring and retention issues, a significant number of staff at IYC-St. Charles (approximately 50) are on leave due to a claimed service-connected injury.”
There were so many out on workers compensation, a former administrator returned to assist in managing their claims “to ensure that staff return to work as soon as they are medically able to do so,” the court filing stated.