BENTON – A young person who has been housed at the Franklin County Juvenile Detention Center filed a federal lawsuit challenging the conditions at the facility. The lawsuit’s description of horrific conditions at the facility mirror the findings of a recent report by the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice. The youth, along with several others currently or recently detained at the facility, describe being locked into cells the size of parking spaces for 20 to 24 hours a day, unable to flush their own toilets, and struggling to sleep under fluorescent lights that never turn off. The youth held at the facility also are not provided any meaningful mental health care or allowed to attend school.

These conditions are present in a facility that detains youth as young as 11 years old. Each year, Franklin County JDC detains hundreds from multiple counties across Southern Illinois. 

“The bottom line is that the officials responsible for this facility are failing to treat youth in their care as children,” said Kevin Fee, Senior Special Litigation Counsel at the ACLU of Illinois, one of the lawyers representing the unnamed youth in the lawsuit. “These youth are isolated for long periods of time with no chance to exercise their minds or bodies. There is widespread consensus that no one should be subjected to solitary confinement, let alone an 11 year old who is at such a crucial early stage in their social and emotional development. It is inhumane.”

Among conditions detailed in the complaint filed in federal court:

  • Young people are regularly confined alone their small rooms for 20-23 hours per day, and sometimes receive enhanced solitary confinement for days on end;
  • Fluorescent lights in the rooms remain at full brightness for 24 hours each day;
  • The rooms are not sanitary, including many that leak when it rains and others that have significant mold;
  • Youth are not provided pillows or adequate bed linen for the mattresses where they sleep;
  • Water is regularly shut off as a part of an opaque discipline system;
  • Youth must “buzz” detention staff if they need additional toilet paper or to have their toilet flushed (toilets in the rooms are flushed from outside);
  • Young people have no meaningful access to mental health care to deal with their inhumane surroundings; 
  • Youth have no regular educational classes, instead being given worksheets to complete on their own.

Nearly a year ago, in August 2022, the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice conducted an audit of the Franklin County facility and concluded that it was a “facility in crisis.” The IDJJ cited a range of problems from extended confinement to the lack of clothing and personal hygiene to a behavioral program that was standardless and vague. 

“Our clients all make one thing clear – Franklin County and the leadership of the JDC have put policies in place that led to youth being detained in constitutionally inadequate conditions, and they have failed to organize and pay for the resources necessary to appropriately care for children in its facility,” added Fee. “This situation must be rectified now, so that no 11 year old is locked up in these awful conditions. We look forward to sharing all this information with a federal court.”

The federal lawsuit was filed in the Southern District of Illinois on behalf of a young person (known by his initials, L.S.) and a putative class of other youth detained at the facility. The complaint asks the federal court to ensure that immediate steps are taken to address the harms caused by the conditions and lack of services.

A full copy of the complaint can be found here