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ACLU wants reform plan for juvenile center

Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Chicago Sun-Times
by ABDON M. PALLASCH Legal Affairs Reporter

Cook County's juvenile detention center has violated so many parts of a court order that a federal judge should appoint someone to draft a mandatory plan for change, the American Civil Liberties Union will argue in a petition to be filed today.

Despite six years of litigation, a 3-year-old agreement in which the county said it would fix problems, multiple management personnel changes and two court-appointed monitors, the ACLU says it has learned through interviews with children held there that the center:

*Continues to subject children to high levels of violence, threats and intimidation, including abuse by other children and even by staff, resulting in dozens of serious injuries including, among others, broken bones, broken teeth, lacerations that require sutures, bruising, bleeding.

*Continues to impose harsh and arbitrary discipline, including rendering children unconscious using dangerous chokeholds and locking them in cells for days for minor infractions.

*Repeatedly has failed to implement basic systems of management, staffing and necessary supervision.

Critics see patronage jobs

The ACLU and other critics of the center complain county officials use it as a source of high-paying patronage jobs for people unschooled in caring for troubled youth.

"Failure to implement even the most basic management systems is exacerbated by their persistent refusal to hire competent, experienced administrators," the suit states.

The low priority Cook County Board President John Stroger's administration places on the juvenile center was obvious by its leaving the superintendent's job unfilled for nearly two years, the petition says.

In January 2004, the county promised within 90 days to begin a computerized system tracking children's injuries.

"Like so many of the defendants' other promises," the suit states, [the] plan never became a reality."

In June of this year, the county began providing "rudimentary information" compiled by hand, the suit states.

Stroger spokeswoman Caryn Stancik said she thought the county was trying to work with the ACLU and the monitors.

"It's unfortunate the ACLU would think we need another monitor," she said.

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