Last day at last Joliet prison
By bob okon email@example.com February 22, 2013 4:32PM
Michael Bew (center) hugs Celeste Thomas (left) goodbye on the final day of operations at the Illinois Youth Center Friday, Feb. 22, 2013, at 2848 McDonough St. in Joliet. The two worked as juvenile justice specialists at the facility. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 25, 2013 6:38AM
Michael Bew, who spent 25 years on the job at Illinois Youth Center-Joliet, said he and his colleagues were let down by state leaders.
Friday was the last day for IYC-Joliet, which opened in 1959. It was the last prison used strictly for maximum-security confinement of serious youth offenders.
“This place is needed,” Bew said as he and co-workers gathered in the guard house and said goodbye. “A lot of other places are needed. But they’re being shut down because the state is out of money. This is the end result.”
Mismanagement of state finances over the years has led to this, he said.
Bew will still be working. He, like the other 220 employees at IYC-Joliet, were able to transfer to other prisons. But Bew believes the closing of IYC-Joliet is a sign of how the mismanagement of state finances over the years is creating problems in Illinois today.
Rodney Baker not only was an employee at IYC-Joliet, he’s a neighbor, living in a nearby subdivision. And, Baker sees problems for the neighborhood.
“It’s a little depressing that they’re closing it and leaving this place blank,” Baker said. “It could become an eyesore.”
That’s what happened at the last state prison where he worked, Baker said. He was at Joliet Correctional Center on Collins Street before it closed. The structure is deteriorating from within. Vandals and robbers have broken in. The state has given less attention to the old prison as its money problems have worsened.
The closing of IYC-Joliet means Joliet does not have a state prison in the city limits for the first time since Joliet Correctional Center opened in 1858. Stateville is in Crest Hill. While Joliet civic leaders in the 1990s wanted to shed the city’s image as a prison town, hundreds of jobs have been lost with the prison closings.
“I raised my family and sent my son to college doing this,” Baker said of his 29 years working for the prisons.
He predicted that stores, eateries and gas stations on Larkin Avenue and Houbolt Road will miss the business that IYC-Joliet employees have brought them.
The last day at IYC-Joliet was “real sad,” said Jackie Bogan, a food service supervisor. “For a long time, I didn’t think it would actually happen.”
Yellow signs with red lettering saying, “Keep IYC-Joliet Open” still are posted outside the facility. The workers and their union, the American Federations of State, County and Municipal Employees, waged nearly a year-long fight trying to persuade Gov. Pat Quinn to reverse the decision to close the facility.
Quinn has contended that IYC-Joliet and other state facilities, including Dwight Correctional Center, needed to be shut down because they were no longer needed and were costing the state millions of dollars to keep open.
“I think it’s a big mistake,” said Tim Graf, a teacher at IYC-Joliet. “I think we have a certain population in this state that needs to be here.”
Illinois is turning to more community-based treatment of youth offenders. While IYC-Joliet was the only maximum-security facility strictly used for youth offenders, state officials say maximum-security sections are available at other youth centers.
The IYC-Joliet employees believe they were skilled in handling the most serious juvenile criminals. They believe they were able to do a lot of good in Joliet.
“I see kids in the street who were in here,” Bew said. “They tell me, ‘I would have been in Stateville if it wasn’t for what you did there.’”