SPRINGFIELD - Not yet a year old, the state's newly-formed Department of Juvenile Justice is facing criticism that it is not sufficiently educating and rehabilitating the youths held behind its walls.
The agency was split from the Illinois Department of Corrections in July 2006 to target the specific needs of young offenders. But members of the state's largest employee union and some state lawmakers say the department is failing in its mandate to rehabilitate and educate.
Officials with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union plan to address a House panel about the problems next week.
AFSCME spokesman Buddy Maupin said all of the state's six male-only youth prisons are seeing a spike in the number of assaults against staff while others are reducing the amount of time youths spend learning.
"The philosophy of this new department emphasizes programs and rehabilitation," he said. "But you can't rehabilitate without counselors and educators. They have failed to hire a single counselor, no youth supervisors and very few educators. Further, they have not hired … new security staff since 2003."
Maupin said the number of frontline workers in the facilities is in decline. Numbers provided by AFSCME show that in 2003 there were 322 staff at the St. Charles detention facility and, as of March 2007, there are 225.
Agency spokesman Derek Schnapp disputed the alleged increase in assaults against staff but acknowledged a teacher deficit is forcing the state to cut back on class time.
"We are addressing the problems with that where we have teacher openings and are aggressively looking to fill those positions," he said.
The department currently houses 1,332 boys at six facilities across the state and 120 girls in two facilities.