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Yes, you on the second floor

Wednesday, January 04, 2006
Chicago Tribune
Editorial

As top managers of Cook County's problem-plagued Juvenile Temporary Detention Center peeked down from the windows of their second-floor offices Tuesday, two commissioners standing on the street below demanded that they resign.

Unfortunately, nobody budged upstairs. Too bad the audio from the press conference wasn't being piped to the second floor.

If it had been, the managers of the detention center would have heard some blunt truths.

"The problem has been going on for more than 10 years. ... It's time to take action," said Commissioner Forrest Claypool, who is trying to unseat County Board President John Stroger in the March primary. Claypool, with Commissioner Michael Quigley, called for a management shakeup, a county financial audit of the center and more county support to improve the center's substandard, on-site school.

All good ideas. The detention center remains a mess. The 450 kids housed there are unsafe. Many get abused, either by other children or staffers. Taxpayer money is wasted on unnecessary overtime budgets and do-nothing jobs. Political hacks, friends of political hacks, people with criminal records and a host of otherwise poorly qualified individuals run the place.

The facility has gotten a lot more scrutiny in the last five months. Pretty soon the experts will have to stand in line.

County commissioners held a special hearing about the problems at the center.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation started a management review.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which represents youth detained at the center, asked a federal judge to appoint an independent manager to oversee reform. The ACLU also wants another review by independent analysts.

The Illinois attorney general in December issued subpoenas related to a whistleblower's allegations of widespread contract and payroll fraud involving detention-center staff.

Last week, at Stroger's request, the Chicago Bar Association offered to create a citizens committee to assess the center.

And the John Howard Association, a prison watchdog group, continues to monitor the facility under a federal consent decree.

All that attention is welcome--particularly the attorney general's scrutiny. But nothing much is likely to happen as long as the bosses are snug in their second-floor offices and the people who understand the problems are consigned to sidewalk press conferences. The bosses--and their bosses--will have to go.

Stroger hand-picked those top managers, whose main qualifications seem to be that they are friends, family or otherwise connected to politics. None has the kind of independence, experience or vision needed to fix the mess.

County Board members have enough information to start now on the kind of reform that's needed at the detention center. Waiting for all the studies to conclude will just be a stall.



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