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Juvenile center returns to court
ACLU and county expect a hearing on alleged violations

Saturday, December 31, 2005
Chicago Tribune
by Jeff Coen

The fate of the troubled Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center appears headed for a court fight, after lawyers on both sides said Friday they remain too far apart to settle.

Attorneys for the county and with the American Civil Liberties Union said they expect U.S. District Judge John Nordberg to schedule a hearing when the two sides are back in his courtroom Jan. 11.

The ACLU contends the county is in violation of a 2002 agreement that settled its 1999 class-action suit over center conditions. It has asked the judge to appoint an independent manager to oversee reform. Cook County argues reforms are progressing, and that an organization specializing in the care of disadvantaged children, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, has started a review.

Benjamin Wolf, associate legal director for the ACLU, said the county's promises are not enough, especially in light of continuing internal reports of "riots" or group disturbances, similar to those reported in the Tribune earlier this month.

"We're tired of responding to press releases," Wolf said. "We need to cross-examine witnesses."

Assistant State's Atty. Patrick Blanchard, lead attorney representing the center, said the county denies allegations raised by the ACLU, most notably that center residents have been the victims of systemic abuse in the facility.

"We believe a public hearing will clear the air," Blanchard said.

Blanchard said J.W. Fairman, the Cook County public safety director, has been deposed by lawyers in the case and that experts for both sides toured the facility in mid-December in anticipation of testifying. Blanchard said he also expects to ask the judge to allow the county to depose center residents.

In its latest filing Thursday, the ACLU accused the county of violating the federal court pact for three years, though "they now seek to create the impression that they have entered a new era in which everything will change almost overnight."

The center has no management information system as required by the agreement, the ACLU filing said, and the county is "unable to organize critical data about events such as riots and injuries to children and staff at the detention center."

Blanchard said the county denies that anything like a riot has taken place at the center. The county's court filing Dec. 14 promised that Supt. Jerry Robinson is expanding staff training and refining a system to "ensure more accurate reporting and tracking of incidents and individuals involved."



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