Wednesday, Dec 4, 2013
Residents Cry To Keep IYC Open
MURPHYSBORO - The governor's proposal to close the Illinois Youth Center in Murphysboro and the Chester Mental Health Center was up for discussion in both communities on Wednesday. They're among seven facilities statewide targeted for closure, resulting in 1,900 layoffs. In our region, more than 550 people would lose their jobs at the Murphysboro and Chester centers. Studies show the local economy would take a $70 million hit.
A state commission that handles facility closings held hearings in both local towns. To say the hearing in Murphysboro was full, would be a gross understatement. Many people stood for hours along the walls to show support for Murphysboro's IYC, and send the message that the facility should remain open.
"You know there are a number of juvenile justice facilities in the state of Illinois, why was this facility chosen?" asks senator David Luechtefeld.
The question was one on many lawmaker's minds as they each took their chance to grill state officials on why they want to close the Illinois Youth Center in Murphysboro.
"Our decision was based on having to operate under this budget that we have been given," explains Arthur Bishop, the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice Director.
But even a response about the state's dire fiscal situation would not do for some lawmakers, who accuse the governor of political tricks.
"Much of your testimony will be suspect, obviously, because you've been told by the Governor, we're going to close a facility," says Luechtefeld. "Figure out a way to explain why."
But many of the local leaders tried to get past the political posturing as they pleaded their case. They asked the state commission to think about the families that would be affected.
"There's people in this audience that serve us, and they have worked in these facilities, but he doesn't bother to worry about their families. He just throws it out there to see if we can move his agenda forward," says representative Mike Bost.
Not everyone in the hearing, though, was against the closure of the youth facility. Members of the Juvenile Justice Initiative reminded the commission that many states are closing youth prisons and treating youths in their communities instead. But the IYC could still be of use to the state's department of corrections.
"There's at least three prisons within 100 miles of here that are so overcrowded. The conditions are deplorable and it's unsafe for staff and for inmates. On the other side, DJJ has the space available," explains Chris Bernard, the director of the Juvenile Justice Project.
While the hearing is a start, Murphysboro residents have made it clear they'll keeping fighting until the youth prison is once again funded.
The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability will make a recommendation to Governor Quinn about whether the youth center should be closed. That recommendation is not binding, though, meaning the Governor is not forced to take any action. Lawmakers say they hope to find money during the veto session to fund the IYC.
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