Limited capacity in juvenile detention centers statewide

Sangamon County Juvenile Detention Center remains closed nearly six months after incident

click to enlarge Limited capacity in juvenile detention centers statewide
The Sangamon County Juvenile Detention Center on South Dirksen Parkway in Springfield hasn’t accepted admissions of juveniles since an “active shooter” incident there on Sept. 30 that ended with the death of 17-year-old Camren Darden, a detainee at the center.

The temporary closure of the Sangamon County Juvenile Detention Center almost six months ago and a shortage of staffed beds in detention facilities statewide could affect public safety, Springfield's police chief says.

"It's stuff like this that contributes to the increase in crime stats," Chief Kenneth Scarlette told Illinois Times.

The Springfield Police Department highlighted two issues in a Feb. 21 news release about its inability to arrange for the detention of four juvenile suspects after a Feb. 19 armed robbery allegedly arranged on Facebook Marketplace.

One issue was a potential shortage of detention services for juveniles before their cases go through the court system in Illinois.

The other was the lingering impact of a Sept. 30 incident in which a Springfield police officer shot and killed a 17-year-old male, Camren Darden of Springfield, who was being detained at the center on South Dirksen Parkway.

Police said the teen fired shots from a handgun and tried to leave the facility with a 16-year-old female as a hostage before being shot by the officer.

The State Journal-Register quoted Sangamon County State's Attorney John Milhiser as saying that his predecessor, Dan Wright, determined Office Brian Riebeling's action was "a justified use of force based on the law and the facts of this case."

Riebeling won't face any criminal charges in the case, Milhiser said, and neither will Chance Taylor, an officer in training who was with Riebeling when they responded to the detention center's 911 call.

Scarlette told Illinois Times that neither man will face internal disciplinary action, either. Scarlette said he knows an investigation of the incident is being conducted by Illinois State Police.

There's no timeline for the reopening of the center while the investigation continues and ISP looks into how Darden obtained a gun and other aspects of the case.

"I'm hopeful that a decision will be made to open this facility in the near future," Scarlette said. He said the center, which is owned by the county, funded mostly by the state and operated by the 7th Judicial Circuit Court of Illinois, is "a valuable resource that we desperately need in our community, especially when it comes to holding violent juveniles."

The February news release said the four male juveniles were arrested after Springfield police officers said they learned Feb. 19 that the robbery victim had gone to a Springfield home after arranging the transaction on Facebook Marketplace.

When the victim arrived, the news release said: "The male subjects robbed him at gunpoint, taking the computer. The victim was able to provide police information that led them to a specific residence. Four male juveniles located at the residence were detained and positively identified."

The boys, between the ages of 14 and 16, were arrested, screened through the Juvenile Detention Center and "met the criteria for confinement," according to the news release.

But police said the boys were released to family members after a supervisor at the center told police "there were no juvenile detention centers within the state that had the capacity for the juveniles at that time."

In addition to the Sangamon County facility not currently holding youth, a detention center in Franklin County recently closed. That facility was closed by a judge who said staffing shortages made it difficult to meet new state standards governing the treatment of youth in custody, according to a Jan. 4 story by ProPublica and Capitol News Illinois. There are 14 other remaining facilities statewide to request assistance, Sangamon County Administrator Brian McFadden said.

"While it is not accurate that all such facilities are at capacity, the reality is that each facility must consider its own capacity, current population staffing challenges and a host of other operational needs for their facility when determining whether or not to accept out-of-county youth for detainment," McFadden said in a statement.

Juvenile detention centers, which provide temporary detention services to juveniles before their cases are adjudicated, are managed by local courts. They are technically owned and operated by county governments and funded with state and county dollars through county budgets.

The Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts, through the Illinois Supreme Court's budget, reimburses counties for the salaries of approved detention center staff members, Supreme Court spokesperson Christopher Bonjean said.

Bonjean added in a statement, "The respective county provides the remaining funding for fringe benefits and other employer costs – computers, etc. – along with the cost of the physical building."

Bonjean didn't respond when asked whether there's a shortage of staffed beds at juvenile detention centers in the state.

But Kent Holsopple, director of Sangamon County court services, said in a statement, "Difficulty with staffing at facilities around the state has been a consistent problem over the past few years, which affects each facility's ability and willingness to detain out-of-county youth."

Holsopple added, "The recent incident in which detention space was not able to be secured for four youth who were arrested was an isolated one."

Scarlette said Springfield police in the past six months have been driving juveniles from Sangamon County to Madison County, Peoria County and Galesburg. In addition to the four juveniles allegedly involved in the robbery, police had to release another two juveniles arrested on gun charges to their parents.

It's difficult to independently gauge or evaluate capacity issues in the state's temporary juvenile detention system, according to Stephanie Kollmann, policy director for the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University's Pritzker School of Law.

That's because administrative data for probation and juvenile detention centers in counties have been judged to be exempt from the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, she said.

In Sangamon County, the detention center is allowed to have 24 beds, but "operational capacity is set at 16," Holsopple said.

"Although youth may be ordered to serve time in juvenile detention as part of a sentence, most youth held are in their court process for alleged offenses and have not yet been adjudicated," he said. "There are a range of sentencing options for juveniles, which could include probation or a commitment to the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice."

Holsopple said the facility has 22 staff positions that are part of its $2.7 million annual budget, but the center has been less than 50% staffed while the center has been closed. No one has been laid off, but vacant positions haven't been filled, Sangamon County government spokesperson Jeff Wilhite said.

The Sangamon County Detention Center currently has 22,000 square feet, a reduction from when the center first opened in the 1990s. Part of the original center footprint has been walled off and renovated for use by Helping Hands of Springfield's recently opened shelter and social services at the site for homeless people.

The state's juvenile detention population has been declining over the past 10 years or more as part of a trend to move away from the often-traumatic and counterproductive detention system in favor of other alternatives, Kollmann said.

Dean Olsen is a senior staff writer at Illinois Times. He can be reached at 217-679-7810, [email protected] or

Dean Olsen

Dean Olsen is a senior staff writer for Illinois Times. He can be reached at:
[email protected], 217-679-7810 or @DeanOlsenIT.

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