April 01, 2016

More than 1000 protest planned closure of IYC Kewanee at legislative hearing

A standing room only crowd packed the bipartisan Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) hearing on Governor Rauner’s plan to close the Illinois Youth Center at Kewanee.

The center is a Department of Juvenile Justice facility that houses maximum-security and special-treatment offenders. The Rauner administration has not put forward any viable plan to relocate this group of troubled youth.

“We are asking the commission to reject this closure,” said AFSCME Council 31 Deputy Director Mike Newman at the hearing on March 30. “This plan is another example of the Rauner administration using half-truths and distortions instead of stating facts. The fact is that the closure of IYC Kewanee is about cutting expenditures and cutting important services—not improving lives.”

Most of the 200 employees at IYC Kewanee would be laid off if the plan moves forward, resulting in a $43 million economic impact on the surrounding area. The Rauner Administration plans to close Kewanee quickly—within the next few months—but has not offered a plan for reinvesting in programs or improving the lives of its seriously troubled youth.

“Our goals are to successfully rehabilitate the youth in our care and give them the best possible chance at a successful future,” said Shannon McDermott, an AFSCME Local 801 member and teacher at the center’s school. “Our education program successfully helps the youth reach those goals. In fact, 35 percent of our students leave Kewanee with a high school diploma—that’s the highest rate in the state.”

IYC Kewanee was built in 2001 as a treatment facility for acutely mentally ill youth and those with problem sexual behaviors.  In 2013 Kewanee became the only maximum security facility in DJJ.

“Our buildings were designed with the best physical layout to manage these unique populations,” testified Tod Williams, president of AFSCME Local 801. “Kewanee is PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act) certified with more than 400 closed-circuit cameras to prevent sexual victimization, and it has the only 24-hour health care unit in the state. When you look at what our facility has to offer, we don’t understand this decision.”

AFSCME Local 801 member Heather Nolan also testified to the commission. AFSCME members who work at IYC Kewanee and their families came to the hearing and were supported by more than 1,000 concerned community members.

Before the closure can move forward, COGFA must analyze its impact and issue a recommendation.  While the recommendation is only advisory, it can help to shape public opinion.  

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