Employees to rally to keep Illinois Youth Center open
By BOB OKON firstname.lastname@example.org March 12, 2012 9:48PM
Updated: April 14, 2012 8:11AM
JOLIET — Union employees will rally Thursday outside of the Illinois Youth Center to try to prevent the closing of the Joliet facility.
Gov. Pat Quinn wants to close the state detention facility for juveniles on July 31.
That would mean the loss of about 275 jobs, including 235 members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said Sharon Konopka, president of AFSCME Local 1753.
The rally from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. will be the first public demonstration to oppose the closing of the facility, which has been on McDonough Street since 1959.
Konopka said the union is in large part fighting an image problem.
“The reason he (Quinn) is closing Joliet it that he decided it’s the least rehabilitative structure, which means we’re ugly,” Konopka said. “We have to look like a prison because we have young people that have committed the worst crimes in Illinois. You can’t look like a college campus when you have murderers and rapists.”
State Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Joliet, said the administration has characterized the Joliet facility as “most like an adult prison of all the youth centers.”
McGuire plans to attend the rally and also is organizing a tour of the Joliet facility. He plans to invite legislators from neighboring districts to join him in his visit to the Joliet youth prison on Monday.
“Public safety seems to be a paramount issue here,” McGuire said. “Judges and juries have decided that these individuals need to be in prison.”
Part of the AFSCME argument for keeping Joliet open is that it is the only true maximum security facility in Illinois for juveniles, and there would be no good place to transfer the young people who are there.
But Kendall Marlowe, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, said Illinois Youth Centers in Kewanee, Warrenville and Harrisburg have maximum security facilities. And, the youth center in St. Charles is being equipped for maximum security.
“It’s likely that a majority of these youths (from Joliet) would go to Kewanee and St. Charles,” Marlowe said.
State Rep. Jack McGuire, D-Joliet, whose district includes the youth center, said it is not clear how much legislative opposition to Quinn’s plan across Illinois.
“I haven’t talked to too many members since (Quinn) came out with the announcement to close it,” Jack McGuire said. “It hasn’t been a subject of great discussion except for the members here.”
The governor has also proposed closing a youth center in Murphysboro, as well as the Dwight and Tamms adult prisons. He also proposes closing six Adult Transition Centers. He has estimated budget savings from the closings at $83.4 million.
Pat McGuire said there is a proposal in the state senate that would require the governor to get legislative approval before closing any state facilities. Currently, legislators review proposed closings and give advisory recommendations.
The General Assembly’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability will hold a hearing in the Joliet area before the youth center can be closed. That hearing has not been scheduled.