SPRINGFIELD - Understaffed juvenile prisons have some Illinois lawmakers suggesting the state should be sued for failing to fulfill its constitutional mandate to educate its youth.
Specifically, a handful said they would like to see Gov. Rod Blagojevich held accountable for allowing the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice to operate the only state-run school district without enough teachers, counselors and guards.
The result of the staffing shortfall has been cutbacks in class time, counseling and supervision at the state's eight youth centers, which house 1,452 juveniles.
On Tuesday, state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, called the situation a travesty and said she was particularly alarmed when she visited youth prisons and saw inmates teaching others to read.
"It's a school district we are talking about. It's the governor's school district, I mean come on," she said. "They don't have a superintendent, they don't have dean of discipline and they don't have special education. We should not tolerate less from this school district than any other."
Derek Schnapp, a spokesman for the nearly year-old agency, said the district lacks 18 teachers and an unknown number of guards and counselors at its facilities in Chicago, Kewanee, St. Charles, Harrisburg, Murphysboro, Warrenville, Joliet and north of Alton.
"As far as exact numbers, we don't have those numbers," he said before noting that it is also unknown how much class time had been cut and at what facilities.
The situation has been under the microscope in Springfield, where lawmakers last week held a more than two-hour hearing on the new department's staffing woes.
Schnapp said the staffing deficiency can be blamed in part on the growing pains of a new department.
"This agency is barely one year old," he said. "It's tough, people think one year is a lot of time; it's not a lot of time. It's an ongoing learning process."
State Rep. Monique Davis, D-Chicago, disagreed with Schnapp and suggested legal action should be taken against the state for the teacher deficit specifically.
"The constitution of Illinois requires that every child be taught until they are 17," she said. "It doesn't make an exception for if they are incarcerated."
Davis said she is concerned about what imprisoned juveniles are learning if they aren't in class.
"Hour after hour, they aren't in class? Believe me they are learning something," she said. "Without a teacher in front of them, they aren't learning the right thing and it's a bigger problem for everyone when they get out."