ACLU: Illinois Youth Center staff improperly and unfairly seekin - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

ACLU: Illinois Youth Center staff improperly and unfairly seeking charges

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HARRISBURG -- A southern Illinois youth detention center faces new allegations as part of an ongoing lawsuit.

The American Civil Liberties Union accuses operators of going overboard on punishment and prosecution of more than 20 inmates.

The new ACLU charges come as part of an ongoing federal lawsuit with the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice.

It says staff at the Illinois Youth Center in Harrisburg push criminal prosecution for "trivial charges."

The ACLU made the charges in federal court, accusing staff at the Illinois Youth Center in Harrisburg of going overboard in seeking criminal charges against inmates, even when the Department of Juvenile Justice didn't see the need for them.

It comes as part of a federal lawsuit that began in 2012.

ACLU lawyers believe IYC staff keep pushing the charges because they disagree with state policy to limit kids' time in solitary confinement.

The lawsuit says youths who commit so-called "trivial matters" like spitting on, shoving, or pouring water on staff can face charges of aggravated battery.

ACLU lawyer Lindsay Miller calls Saline County State's Attorney Jason Clark "out of control" for bringing the charges, and claims IYC staff manipulated him into filing the charges.

Illinois Juvenile Justice spokesman Mike Theodore says the department takes all reports of assaults seriously and carefully considers whether to use internal discipline or refer the incident to a prosecutor.

He also says staff can seek prosecution as "private citizens".

Since 2016, the ACLU says at least 25 offenders faced charges, though only three offenders from the Harrisburg Center officially got referred to prosecutors.

ACLU Lawyer Camille Bennett says that center staff are taking the juvenile's futures into their own hands

"The staff who were going over to the Saline County state's attorney and the Saline County state's attorney are saying we don't think these kids have a chance, so we're not going to give them a chance," she said in a phone call with News 3.

The ACLU wants the court to order Illinois to stop the flood of staff  charges and wants a stop to the transfer of any new offenders to the facility until it can reach an agreement with the state.

Saline County State's Attorney Jason Clark told us he didn't have time to address these concerns at the moment, but said he could talk about them Wednesday.

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