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Juvenile home riots reported: ACLU

Friday, December 30, 2005
Chicago Sun-Times
by ABDON M. PALLASCH Legal Affairs Reporter

The American Civil Liberties Union said in a court filing Thursday that there were "riots" at Cook County's juvenile detention center, formerly known as the Audy Home.

"They have what they call 'group disturbances' there from time to time," said ACLU attorney Ben Wolf. "We have heard it from kids, but the defendants' own data report group disturbances . . . several times in the last year. It's not an uncommon occurrence out there where a unit just goes up for grabs."

County spokeswoman Caryn Stancik said, "There are no riots going on at the JTDC [Juvenile Temporary Detention Center]," but said she could not comment on any specifics of the lawsuit.

County Board President John Stroger issued a news release earlier Thursday touting a meeting he had with Chicago Bar Association President Michael Hyman in which the bar agreed to form a "blue ribbon panel" to recommend reforms at the center.

Monitoring agreement

In a series of stories this year, the Chicago Sun-Times has reported that many of the highest-paid employees at the center have political or family ties to Stroger; 10 detainees recently released from the center reported that guards encourage youths to step into "fight rooms" to slug out their differences with each other; the center has guards with criminal records and the highest rates of reported abuse against detainees in the country, and the state attorney general has subpoenaed documents as part of a fraud investigation.

"I don't need a 'blue-ribbon panel' to tell me what to do," said Commissioner Forrest Claypool, who is running against Stroger in the march Democratic primary for County Board president. "We need to fire every single manager running the Audy Home and hire professionals who will mentor and educate children instead of abuse them. That's obvious to every citizen but apparently not to President Stroger. The place is obviously out of control."

The ACLU sued the county in 1999 on behalf of teens at the center who said they were being abused and getting inadequate medical care. The county entered into a monitoring agreement in which two private monitors were supposed to report on progress. The center also agreed to keep records of reports of injuries and abuse.

In its filing Thursday, the ACLU noted that the county in its own filing this month admitted it was not meeting some of the reporting requirements of the monitoring agreement.

"Stripped of its self-serving excuses and half-truths, the response again and again refuses squarely to confront the petition's statements describing how defendants repeatedly have violated the [monitoring agreement]," the ACLU said.

Among the inadequate records: "critical data about events such as riots and injuries to children and staff at the detention center," the ACLU said.

Stroger, for his part, said he has been reforming the center since the appearance of articles in the Sun-Times, editorials in the Chicago Tribune and broadcast stories on WBEZ. Stroger accepted an offer to let Bart Lubow, director of the Program for High Risk Youth at the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation, send a team into the juvenile center and make recommendations for improvements.

The bar association made a similar offer. Stroger and director Jerry Robinson took them up on it Thursday.

"We think we can help to make recommendations and improve the way the juvenile facility is operated," Hyman said. "We could have a real positive impact."

Contributing: Annie Sweeney



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