Union Bridles at Youth Prisons Merger

July 29, 2010

Download Story
AFSCME representatives testify to state legislators about teh proposed merger of DJJ and DCFS. (WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer)
A much anticipated report is due out today, evaluating how Illinois handles the mental health of imprisoned kids. Yesterday, government and organized labor clashed over the youth prisons' future.

Governor Pat Quinn wants to fold Juvenile Justice into the department that runs foster care. The public employees union AFSCME told state legislators that both departments are already understaffed. They say the merger would substitute bureaucratic noodling for real reform. Tamela Smith works in the juvenile prison in Warrenville, where she says her caseload includes DCFS wards.

SMITH: I am sorry to say, DCFS hasn't offered so much to their wards at Warrenville to make me think they've so much extra to put on the table for all the youth in DJJ.

The directors of both departments said their assets would complement each other, helping to better treat and rehabilitate kids. A report due out this morning will evaluate how well the department has done that so far. It was commissioned in the wake of two suicides by imprisoned Illinois youths.