Pursuing Prosecution in Kewanee - News and Weather For The Quad Cities -

Pursuing Prosecution in Kewanee

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When teens in Illinois commit serious crimes, many of them wind up in a juvenile prison. 

Some of them come right into our community, in Kewanee, IL. Now, we hear from guards at that prison, who say inmates are out of control, and there is little anybody can do to stop them. 

It's a maximum security facility, home to some of Illinois' youngest criminals, some of them are murderers and rapists, all under the age of 21.

Guards say more and more, prisoners are attacking guards, and not facing any consequences, and fear for their lives, every time they go to work.

"If it continues the way it is, the way the assault is going, not only the staff, but with inmates attacking each other... The price of change in this department is going to be blood.," says former guard Tod Williams. 

He says things at the Kewanee Youth Center are getting worse by the day, because inmates aren't being held responsible for anything, from splitting the lip of a guard, to putting another in the hospital. 

"The youth in Kewanee, as well as the rest of the state, no longer have any repercussions for their actions, they aren't held accountable," Williams explains.

In July 2006, the Illinois juvenile youth system underwent a major change. 

Instead of being a division under the Department of Corrections, the general assembly created a separate Department of Juvenile Justice.

Since then, guards say the youth facilities have become steadily more dangerous.

"When we first opened up 13 years ago, you always had in the back of your mind that something could happen. But it was maybe 2-3 times a year," explains Juvenile Justice Supervisor in Kewanee, Van White, "The biggest difference between now and then was there was always consequences."

White has been working at the Kewanee facility since it opened. 

He says he's been assaulted 10 times by inmates in his time there. 

One, left his lip split, and needing seven stitches. 

"Before, you would come to work and you knew in the back of your mind that something could happen," White says. "Now, you come to work and you know it's going to happen, you just don't know to who."

Now, the question is, why are things like this happening more now?

Guards say the Department of Juvenile Justice is treating 18,19 and 20 year olds, like children. 

They say there was a change at the Kewanee Youth Center in March of this year. 

Instead of putting an out of control inmate into a "day room" or solitary confinement for a few days, they are now only allowed 59 minutes.

In fact, within the walls of the prison, it's simply known as a time out.

"We've had a number of them, when you take them back after they've been in a fight, they'll look right at you and say, "Let me get this right, I whoop some ass, I go down in your little room for an hour and you take me back and I can do this all over again?" We say, yeah basically, and they say you're f'ing stupid." explains Williams. 

On top of the assaults, some guards say there is a bigger problem.

When a guard is assaulted, the offender isn't paying the price, legally. 

Williams says going back to January of this year, there have been 34 assaults on staff, and 0 legal prosecutions for them.

Now, that's bothering the one person responsible for deciding who gets charged in Henry County. 

"We used to regularly get reports that they had an assault on a staff member and they were asking us to prosecute the person," says Henry County State's Attorney Terry Patton. "And we did."

Patton has been the State's attorney in Henry County for 14 years.

He says since the youth prisons were put under the control of the DJJ, he has heard less and less about the assaults happening.

That was until recently.  

"We started getting all these walk-in complaints because they weren't referring over the number of cases they used to," Patton explains. 

After every incident at the Youth Center, guards fill out a report, explaining what happened, then hand it off to superiors. 

Now, the guards says that's all that's happening. 

There are no penalties or punishments being handed down to youths assaulting either each other, or guards on duty. 

So, on March 3rd, three guards brought their complaints straight to Patton. 

"They told me their concerns they have," Patton says. "The internal discipline isn't working, staff assaults are common, they don't feel safe. And as victims, they want their day in court. They want something done about it."

So, Patton called the prison to get records of the investigations done by the DJJ.

And what he was told, surprised him. 

"I asked if I could have a copy of that investigation and I was told no."

Patton says he was contacted a couple days later, saying if he wanted anything, he would have to talk to the director of the Illinois DJJ directly.

Days after KWQC started calling the Department of Juvenile Justice, Patton was told he would be getting the records he requested, allowing him to investigate and possible charge the youths at the prison.

"At the end of the day, in Henry County, I decide who gets charged with a crime, not the Department of Juvenile Justice," Patton explains. "I want to work with them but it's not their decision who gets charged and who doesn't."

KWQC did reach out to the Illinois DJJ while working on this story.

We requested an interview to dispute any of these claim, but were told that isn't possible right now, but did receive this statement.

"The IDJJ is committed to the safety and security of our youth and staff. We take all reports of assault seriously and investigate these reports appropriately... IDJJ has and does turn cases over for prosecution when warranted."  

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