Group Seeks Legal Aid For Incarcerated Teens

Teenage young men being detained at a correctional facility in Southern Illinois will soon be afforded legal representation from private parties after concerns have been raised regarding their access to attorneys.

Lawyers are being recruited by the James B. Moran Center to provide adequate legal representation for youth accused of assaulting staff members at the youth center in Harrisburg, Illinois. The Moran center is an advocacy group that provides low-income youth in the Evanston, Illinois area with social and legal services, will also have lawyers carefully review the cases of a number of youth who have been previously convicted of crimes and are serving sentences as adults.

A published report by the Problica Illinois released in October showed that youth being held at the Harrisburg facility were being sentenced to significant times in prison for minor assaults on staff. These incidents had previously been handled by in-house disciplinary measures.

The staff at Harrisburg was found to have filed more criminal complaints against youth being held at the facility than the staff at the four other youth correctional facilities combined for the years 2016 and 2017. A large number of these cases were adjudicated in the juvenile court system but for offenders who reached their 18th birthday while still residents of the Harrisburg facility were charged as adults.

Moran Center Executive Director Patrick Keenan-Devlin is critical of the facility saying that not only is Harrisburg not providing these children with the rehabilitation necessary to reroute their lives but they are taking actions that further ensnare these youths into an already “broken system.”

The Moran Center received a $10,000 grant to hire attorneys that are willing to represent these youthful offenders. Keenan-Devlin says that the center will also talk to lawyers working for larger firms to dedicate their time and legal expertise in a volunteer capacity.

Saline County, where Harrisburg is located, is a town of 25,000 that does not have its own public defender’s office. Instead, the county enters into contract agreement with local attorneys to provide these services.