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Government

Closing Kewanee? Commission To Consider Youth Detention Center's Future

Candice Jones, director of Illinois' Department of Juvenile Justice
Candice Jones, director of Illinois' Department of Juvenile Justice
Candice Jones, director of Illinois' Department of Juvenile Justice
Candice Jones, director of Illinois' Department of Juvenile Justice

Wednesday night a legislative commission will hear from supporters and critics of shutting down the Illinois Youth Center in Kewanee. The Department of Juvenile Justice announced in February it planned to close the prison.

The Illinois Youth Center in Kewanee is about 150 miles southwest of Chicago. For a juvenile prison, it'sbig: 11buildings on 100 acres of land, with room for 350 kids.

Dept. of Juvenile Justice Director Candice Jones says the closure helps the agency move toward national best practices, which favor smaller, regional facilities.

"Regionally we don't have the number of youth coming from those surrounding communities to make sense to keep a facility that large open," she said. "More than 50 percent of the youth in our system come from Cook and the surrounding counties. And so really making as many pro grammatically strong beds available near here is what makes sense, long-term."

Jones says she expects at the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability hearing, most of the arguments against closure will be about the loss of jobs. Jones says there should be a balance.

"I want all of my employees to land safely and securely, but I do think we have to think about as a state, if, in an agency with a mission like mine of rehabilitating youth and serving public safety, the central thrust in an argument can be just about jobs," she said.

About 200 people work at the Kewanee center, nearly all of whom are unionized. The department says affected staff will be allowed to transfer to other correctional facilities.

A spokesman for the union, AFSCME< has said staff were "blindsided" by the plans, and that Kewanee had recently gone through costly improvements. It also has a program for sex offenders.

As of February, nearly three-quarters of the beds in the Kewanee facility were empty.

Members of COGFA, a bipartisan panel, will make a recommendation on Kewanee's future, but the decision is ultimately up to Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Copyright 2021 NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS. To see more, visit NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS.

Amanda Vinicky moved to Chicago Tonight on WTTW-TV PBS in 2017.
Amanda Vinicky
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