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Young alumna finds calling at juvenile detention center

Deidre Graham

Deidre Graham '08

Deidre Graham ’08, a juvenile justice specialist with the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, walks a fine line between counselor and disciplinarian—a difficult task given the mental condition of the youngsters in her unit at the Illinois Youth Center-St. Charles.

The center is one of the largest in Illinois for juvenile justice. It is a medium security facility housing approximately 320 juvenile males. Youths assigned to the facility range from low to high risk of escaping, and have committed all classes of crime.

Beyond correcting the behavior that led to their run-ins with the law, some inmates have special needs that have to be addressed.

“Children in the special treatment unit have mental issues ranging from depression to bipolar disorder and ADHD,” Graham said. “They need someone to talk to. If you’re not a patient person and willing to talk with them, then working that unit is not for you.”

Graham is known as “Mama Graham” at the facility, where she works to help the young men face their future with hope. Just five years older than some of the kids, she keeps a tight schedule as she gets her unit to classes, meals, and counseling sessions while keeping the peace.

“For the most part any unit I work with doesn’t give me problems. The kids respect me,” Graham said. “But it depends on the day the kids are having. Some days they don’t care what you have to say.”

Difficulty in school, an emotional counseling session, or bad news from home can all make for a tough day. Graham stays sensitive to the events in her kids’ lives. When they act out she knows why, and can cut to the problem’s core. It’s this sensitivity that has her eager to become a full counselor.

“Kids unleash a lot on you even in the role I’m in, and it hurts your soul,” she said. “But I have always been a people person, and I like helping people.”



What you're doing is astonishing! I would love to know more about it, what exactly was your route of education and how did you come about getting this job?

in reply to brittany

Sorry for the late response ladies, my laptop had a virus.

Brittany: Thank you! I majored in Criminal Justice at ISU and then did an internship at the Sangamon County Juvenile Detention Center. I was introduced to the hiring manger for the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) by best friends dad who use to be a Corrections Office with IDOC. I was sent the application in the mail and I applied.I went to the training academy in Springfield, IL November 09 and started at the facility in December 09 and have been working there since. The facility that I work at can house up to 300 youths and is Level 2 Medium Juvenile Male facility. IYC-St. Charles is also the largest and oldest Youth Center in Illinois. We have 9 facilities total across Illinois, two of which are female facilities (IYC-Warrenville and IYC Pere-Marquette). To see a complete listing of the facilities and info about each check out the website:

Alyssa: It definitely does take a physical, mental and emotional toll on you but you have to learn to separate work from home. One of the first things I was told by the senior staff at the facility is to leave work at work and don't take anything negative the kids say to heart. You definitely have to be a strong person because the kids will sniff out your weakness and use it against you.

Ladies I will say that the job can be fun and entertaining at times and there is never a dull moment. The kids are so unexpected!

This job seems like it takes more then just a physical toll on a person. It seems like it also takes a mental and emotional toll as well. While you feel bad disciplining these kids, it's what they need as well as treatment. You have to stay strong in this job, and take the jabs the kids can and will say when their having a bad day.