By CARL GREEN
Golconda, IL – The U.S. Department of Labor has issued a preliminary decision to permanently close the Golconda Jobs Corps Center following behavior problems that included riots, sexual assaults and drunkenness.
The center had been closed temporarily since July 19 by the Department of Labor in cooperation with the Departments of Agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service.
The preliminary decision to close it permanently came last month after southern Illinois’ representatives in Congress joined to ask the department to re-open the center to provide work opportunities for young people.
Byron Zuidema, assistant secretary for employment and training, said problems at Golconda had increased in recent years.
“Among the incidents were multiple riots in 2015 and two violent assaults in May and June of 2017,” he said in an interview. “More broadly, the number of assaults and sexual assaults increased at the center between program years 2014 and 2016, while the total number of students enrolled at the center during each of those program years decreased.”
In its announcing its preliminary decision to close the center, the DOL cited problems over several years and numerous but failed attempts to correct them.
FIGHTING TO MAKE IT TEMPORARY
U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth plus the center’s representative in the House, John Shimkus (R-Collinsville), asked in a letter that the center be re-opened, noting its importance to the region.
“Job Corps programs are responsible for providing disconnected young people with a safe environment to develop vocational skills and further their education,” they wrote.
“Centers should be held accountable when the safety and well-being of staff, students and communities are at risk. At the same time, we should not abandon communities and youth by closing low-performing centers without making a concerted effort to re-open these centers in a way that guarantees safety and a productive learning environment.
“The decision to suspend operations at the Golconda Job Corps Center has serious consequences for the surrounding region and disconnected youth the center serves. We hope that DOL and the Forest Service will do everything possible to make sure this closure is temporary.”
The senators and Shimkus asked for criteria that could be met to allow the re-opening of the center and for DOL’s transition plans for the people who had been enrolled.
They also highlighted the center’s past success. “It has been an economic engine for the region, providing employment opportunities for hundreds of our constituents and partnering with a local hospital,” they wrote. “As a pillar of the community, the closure of this center will be felt throughout the entire region.”
A former student, Coletta Grant, spoke to KFVS-Channel 12 about the center’s effect on her life.
“It was a stable place to live. It was food every day,” she said. “I got my education there, my GED. I got a trade, my welding degree – the best thing that ever happened to me.
“Job Corps will close, but then there won’t be anybody here to teach these kids who might need help,” she added. “There could be another me out there, lost in the system and not having anyone to rely on.”
Those wishing to comment on the plan to close the center have until Oct. 26 to reply, which they can do by visiting he Federal Register Notice website at federalregister.gov and typing Golconda in the search bar.
The search will produce a document page titled “Updated Methodology for Selecting a Job Corps Center for Closure and Center Proposed for Closure,” which includes a link for filing a formal comment.
The department will post its decision on the Federal Register on Feb. 26, followed by a 30-day public comment period.
Job Corps was established in 1964 by the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson to provide no-cost technical career and academic training for people ages 16 to 24, part of Johnson’s War on Poverty and Great Society initiatives.
The Golconda center opened in 1965 at the site of a former Civilian Conservation Corps camp established in 1933 in Pope County along the Ohio River.
It has produced bricklayers, carpenters, construction workers and chefs, among others, out of young people who lacked other options. It is surrounded by the Shawnee National Forest, which provides conservation projects for the students.
The center’s website states: “At Golconda Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center, we support the Job Corps program’s mission to teach eligible young people the skills they need to become employable and independent and place them in meaningful jobs or further education.”
At its peak, the center could accommodate 175 males and 55 females in four-person dorm rooms. When it closed, it was down to 33 trainees. About 60 staff members lost their jobs.