Updated at 11 a.m. to add comments from DuPage County Board member Bob Larsen.
In an effort to cut spending and save money, the DuPage County Board is , instead shipping juvenile offenders to the Kane County regional detention center. The Kane/DuPage partnership would move young prisoners to Kane’s 80-bed facility, which currently houses about 48 inmates.
But opponents have already taken to the Internet, circulating a petition urging board members to vote against the plan, and members of a local youth outreach organization are working to spread the word.
“We’re supposed to keep our kids in our community,” said DuCAP past president Jimmy Barber. DuCAP (DuPage County Area Project) works with at-risk youths in the DuPage County area, branching out to Bolingbrook and Romeoville.
Barber said the organization is also working on creating a petition and hopes to get the word out about the potential closure, which they believe could be detrimental to young inmates — and could hamper efforts to prevent juveniles from becoming repeat offenders.
“Our program here in DuPage is really one of the best programs in the state of Illinois,” Barber said. “And to let that go could jeopardize the kids coming out.”
County board member Robert Larsen, who has been working closely with Kane County officials on the logistics of the potential partnership, estimated that moving juvenile detention out of DuPage County could save $1 million per year.
"Primarily, it's staffing that's the biggest cost," Larsen said, adding that reduced reimbursements from the state mean continuing to operate the 24-hour facility would cost DuPage County even more in the future.
"Right now, according to the chief judge, just to keep the doors open, they'd need another $400,000 from the county," Larsen said.
Kathy McNamara, a juvenile probation officer at the detention center and union representative, disagrees that the closure could save so much.
“I would really like to see his numbers,” she said, adding the closure would affect 21 employees. She put the savings at closer to $400,000, but said it would cost the county around $200,000 to shift detention employees over to the probation department, since those positions typically pay more.
Under the union contract, the county would be required to cut staff members based on seniority. The least senior staffers include 12 probation officers, McNamara said.
McNamara said she also worries about the impact the closure will have on juvenile inmates. Typically, the detention center houses between 20 and 26 youths ranging in age from 10 to 21, she noted.
“It is a 31-bed facility,” McNamara said, reduced from 90 beds several years ago when a portion of the facility converted to house prisoners in the DuPage County Sheriff’s Department’s work-release program.
That change came as a result of decreased population, Larsen said, adding the average detention for a juvenile defender is 10 days to two weeks long.
"That creates its own logistical issue," Larsen said of housing adult inmates in the same facility, "because you have to find a way to keep the adults and the juveniles separate."
According to McNamara, Kane County's juvenile program is vastly different from that of DuPage County.
“They are our kids,” she said. “Why would we send DuPage tax dollars to Kane County?
“First of all, they strip-search their kids,” McNamara added, saying all inmates are searched anytime they must appear in court or meet with their attorney. “We don’t … Those are kids. Our sheriff’s department doesn’t even strip-search people.”
Larsen acknowledged that there have been questions raised as to the differences between the DuPage and Kane county juvenile programs.
"I don't find them to be terribly problematic," he said, adding county officials are working on resolving those issues. "The discussions between Kane County and DuPage County have been ongoing," Larsen said.
According to McNamara, the award-winning juvenile program has already been hit by cuts, losing $250,000 in funding that was shifted to the coffers.
“For us to be the leaders in the field that DuPage County’s known for being, we need that [funding],” McNamara said. “How important are our kids? How important is the safety of our county? … It’s not worth the risk. If it’s working, why would you try to fix it?”
McNamara said if the partnership with Kane County becomes a reality, the juvenile detention facility will continue to operate, but it will house Kane County work-release inmates.
“It just doesn’t make any sense,” she said.