Mental Health Care at Kewanee Juvenile Detention Center Lacking

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Juvenile Detention Center

(AP) — Medical care for severe mental illness at a Kewanee juvenile detention center is so inadequate, the state should find another place for residents needing care “to prevent the violation of their constitutional right to treatment,” a report released Thursday says.

Only eight of 17 mental health positions were filled at the Illinois Youth Center-Kewanee, the state’s designated facility for delinquent young people with the worst mental disturbances, when the John Howard Association visited in September.

As a result, Kewanee residents get only half as much treatment as all detainees at another, general-population facility.

“Prosecutors, criminal defense attorneys, parole officers, and Illinois juvenile courts — who have a duty to protect the safety and best interests of juveniles and the public — can no longer in good conscience operate under the fiction that youth committed to Kewanee will receive adequate mental health care with its current staffing levels,” said the report, an advance copy of which was provided to The Associated Press.

Juvenile justice experts say much of the blame lies with Kewanee’s remote location. Nearly 150 miles west of Chicago, it’s difficult to recruit required staff and hampers communication between offenders and their families, deemed crucial to successful readjustment.

Nearly 30 percent of Kewanee residents are from Cook County.

The state is also facing budget problems. A spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Young offenders are sent to Kewanee precisely because it is supposed to provide more intensive mental health treatment, but they get only a half-hour of therapy per week, according to the report by John Howard, a correctional-system watchdog group.

Gene Griffin, an assistant professor of Psychiatry and Behavior Sciences at Northwestern University’s medical school, said proper treatment is crucial for kids with mental health or behavior-disorder issues. Kewanee’s problems exacerbate a delicate situation.

“These kids have already been sent to corrections,” said Griffin, who participated in a 2010 study of the Illinois system and serves on a board that oversees federal grant funding for Illinois juvenile programs. “Now you’re identifying them as mentally ill or having mental health issues, a sort of second stigma, and then you’re sending them away to a special treatment place, and then you’re not providing the treatment.”

At IYC-Warrenville, in DuPage County, everyone gets an hour of individual mental health therapy each week, plus the chance to participate in group therapy. Group therapy was only available at Kewanee in September to only 18 of the 195 residents who have both mental illness and a substance-abuse problem.

Until the situation changes, the report says, residents should be moved elsewhere and court referrals to Kewanee ended.

“This is a situation that the state has created and enabled,” said John Maki, John Howard executive director. “They either need to find the ability to fully staff the facility and provide treatment that they’re constitutionally obligated to provide or find another way of doing this.”

The association said its previous visits and the foundation-funded studies which Griffin co-wrote have shown staffing problems since at least 2010. A review that year found 24 mental health professionals on staff including three psychologists and 13 therapists with master’s degrees, compared with eight this fall.

Maki and Griffin said Department of Juvenile Justice administrators are moving in the right direction and that lawmakers took the right step to separate the services from the Department of Corrections in 2006.

But aside from Kewanee’s geographical problems, there’s a contradiction in trying to provide mental health services in a “correctional culture,” said Betsy Clarke of the Evanston-based Juvenile Justice Initiative, who was on the John Howard tour of Kewanee in September.

“It’s not therapeutic, it’s not a treatment culture and the best outcomes are going to be when you treat youth in their own community and with their own family,” Clarke said. “Despite the best intentions of the leadership and many of the staff, it’s still a correctional system.”

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