Report: Youth prison in Chicago has inadequate teacher staffing

July 10, 2013

By: Patrick Smith

(Photo courtesy of Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice)
File: IYC Chicago. Prison watchdog John Howard Association says a youth prison in Chicago has too few special ed teachers.

The educational staffing at the Illinois youth prison in Chicago is “grossly deficient,” according to a report released this week.

The report is the result of a monitoring visit prison watchdog group The John Howard Association made to Illinois Youth Center Chicago on January 29 of this year.

During its visit the group found the prison’s student-to-staff ratio to be lacking, particularly in its mental health classes.

“Lack of educational and vocational resources for justice-involved youth represents an endemic, enduring problem,” the study reads.

According to the report, the Chicago youth prison has made strides in helping prepare youth to return to their communities. And report author Jenny Vollen-Katz praised the facility’s leadership for its early school enrollment program, which helps jailed kids return to school immediately after being released.

But she said the youth prison continues to struggle with educational programming, family engagement and its parole system.

“Absent access to vocational and educational programming … [it is] unreasonable to expect youth to succeed at reentry upon leaving [the youth prison],” Vollen-Katz wrote in the report.

According to the report, educational staffing at Chicago does not meet minimum state standards.

At the time of John Howard’s visit, the Chicago facility had a ratio of one teacher for every 27 special education students. State law requires a limit of 15 special education students per teacher.

“These are kids that need help and they qualify for getting help and to be placed in classrooms where the student teacher ratio is that high means they’re not getting the kind of attention they need to learn,” Vollen-Katz said.

During the visit Vollen-Katz said she saw one classroom staffed by a guard rather than a teacher. Students were forced to stay in the classroom for at least an hour even though there was no educational instruction or reading going on, Vollen-Katz said.

According to the report, the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice told The John Howard Association that staffing levels had improved at the Chicago facility after the group’s visit.

The report calls those improvements promising, but Vollen-Katz said safeguards are needed to make sure adequate staffing levels are maintained consistently.

Beyond staffing, the report criticizes the Chicago prison for failing to provide any training or education to youth  who have already obtained their high school diploma or GED.

Instead, those youth prisoners are left “idle, frustrated and disengaged,” according to John Howard researchers. .

Vollen-Katz called for more spending on educational programming and staffing because, she said, education and training help reduce recidivism.

Officials with the Department of Juvenile Justice declined a phone interview for this story and did not provide comment before deadline.