Illinois State Training School for Boys at St. Charles

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Illinois State Training School for Boys at St. Charles
Established 1901
Construction Began 1903
Opened 1904
Current Status Active
Building Style Cottage Plan
Location St. Charles, IL
Peak Patient Population 750-850
Alternate Names
  • Illinois State Training School for Boys
  • Illinois Youth Center


In the early 1900s, with concern for the juvenile delinquent slowly growing, new institutions opened in order to combat and overcome the problem. With the cooperation of both Governor Richard Yates and a philanthropic educator, Nelson McClain, construction began on the Illinois State Home for Delinquent Boys. Here officials planned not only to care for delinquents but also neglected or orphaned boys. Delinquents were considered anyone under the age of sixteen who broke the law and could receive care at a suitable institution.

Once finished, the institution sat on 900 acres of farm land west of St. Charles. The purpose of the school was to provide the young boys with a good education in both intellectual and vocational studies so that once released they could make a respectable living. Not only did the institution offer education to the boys, it also offered religious guidance and military training.

Like many reformatory institutions, the school's layout was based on the cottage system. This system of housing worked around a group of cottages which housed approximately 50 boys. Each cottage had a house mother and father who served as guardians. The cottages created a home-like environment for the boys. Living rooms and kitchens were found in each cottage, making their stay at the institution more comfortable.

Since its establishment in 1904, the Youth Center has gone through many changes. In 1970, officials phased out farm operation in order to place a greater emphasis on the academic, vocational, and counseling programs. By 1989, the institution had also added programs that dealt with behavior problem intervention and added a new medical and confinement wing.

In the early 2000’s the issue of operating costs became a threat to the Illinois Youth Center. In 2004, Governor Rod Blagojevich proposed closing the Illinois Youth Center-St. Charles and sending the inmates to other correctional facilities in order to save Illinois taxpayers what he said would be nearly $12 million. At the time, the St. Charles Illinois Youth Center was the 8th largest employer in St. Charles with 327 employees. The closing was never carried out.

With an investigation prompted by a suicide at the facility, more problems at the St. Charles Illinois Youth Center were exposed in a 2009 report by the John Howard Association of Illinois. The organization found “appalling” conditions at the Center. Buildings magnificent in the past, such as the chapel, were closed due to high mold and mildew levels. Other structures had failing plumbing which posed sanitation threats. Furniture and fixtures in the sleeping areas were seen as outdated and safety risks to inmates. Governor Pat Quinn, in late 2009, responded to the reports by appropriating $71,000 for the IYC, which continued to operate the St. Charles facility.

Several inmates of the Illinois Boy’s School/Illinois Youth Center gained notoriety for crimes committed after they left the institution. Bank robber and murderer “Baby Face” Nelson (Lester Gillis) was housed at the Illinois Youth Center for Boys several times between 1922 and 1925, once for stealing a car in Cook County at the age of 13. Jose Padilla, charged in 2002 with planning to detonate a “dirty bomb” in the U.S., and convicted in 2007 on terrorism charges, was incarcerated at the Illinois Youth Center-St. Charles from 1985-1988 on armed robbery charges. Jeff Fort, the former gang leader, now serving time for murder and federal domestic terrorism charges was once incarcerated at the facility.

Today, the Illinois Youth Center-St. Charles functions as a Level 2 medium-security facility for male youth and has a capacity of 318 inmates.


Main Image Gallery: Illinois State Training School for Boys at St. Charles


More information can be found in the University of Champaign-Urbana's online book collection here