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Reform ahead for Juvenile Detention center
County may bring in advocacy group to set higher standards

Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Chicago Journal
by JACLYN BERTNER, Medill News Service

Amid reports of abuse, mismanagement, patronage hires and employees with criminal records at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, a Baltimore-based children’s advocacy group has volunteered to help improve conditions at the facility.

On Thursday, Cook County commissioners met with representative of the Annie E. Casey Foundation to discuss plans to remedy the problems.

"We have made a commitment to the county to provide intensive assistance in ensuring the conditions in the facility, at a minimum, meet legal requirements," said Bart Lubow, the foundation’s program director for high risk youth.

Plans include training detention center employees to meet "unusually high" standards. "That is going to be the primary mechanism in the long term by which the facility conditions will be routinely monitored," Lubow explained.

The detention center houses youths who are charged with crimes and awaiting trial, as well as young offenders serving short-term sentences.

Experts will be sent to the center, located at 1100 S. Hamilton Ave., to examine safety issues, including the use of restraints on juvenile detainees and allegations of fighting among the youth that is encouraged by the staff.

The foundation plans to train center employees to conduct self-inspections.

"We expect the self-inspection report to generate a work plan to make the facility [one] that will be viewed as a model for the rest of the country," Lubow said.

Lubow praised the county for the progress it has made to seek alternatives to sending youths to the detention center. In 1996, the center’s average monthly population totaled 644, but by December 2004, that number had dropped to 429.

In addition, Lubow said, detention alternatives save the county money.

According to Lubow, the cost to build, finance and operate one detention bed over 20 years is $1.5 million, a number that leaps to a total of $300 million with additional upkeep of the center. In contrast, he said, the cost to fund alternative programs over the next two decades will amount to about $60 million.

Detention alternatives include structured evening programs from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., the time when experts say most crime is committed, and home confinement.

Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool (D-Chicago) is hopeful the conditions at the detention center can be improved.

"The Annie E. Casey Foundation is nationally known for juvenile justice and rehabilitation," he said.

Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston) said he spoke to Jerry Robinson, the new superintendent of the detention center, about his plans for ensuring the best quality environment for the children. "I think he is working hard to resolve some of these issues," Suffredin said.

Robinson said he welcomes the foundation’s help.

"We need someone to come in and give us direction," he said. "It can only enhance the operation of the facility."

"Everyone is willing to work," added Cook County Circuit Judge Curtis Heaston, who presides over the juvenile justice division of Cook County Juvenile Court. "I don’t see why this shouldn’t succeed."

Lubow is also optimistic about the foundation’s plans.

"I’m hoping that with a lot of effort on the part of the county and with modest help from us, [we will] transform the center, lower the population [there], and respond affirmatively to the question of whether or not this is a place you’d want your kid to be in. If it’s a good enough place for a judge’s [child], then it’s a safe and decent place."

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