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ACLU, county told to fix juvenile center

Thursday, January 12, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times
by ANNIE SWEENEY Crime Reporter

There was no formal court ruling Wednesday in the ongoing dispute over changes at Cook County's troubled juvenile detention center.

A federal judge had earlier delayed a decision on whether a watchdog is needed to make changes at the center, telling all parties in the long dispute to keep talking.

Sweeping changes were agreed on in 2002 as a result of a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of kids at the center at 1100 S. Hamilton. The lawsuit outlined chronic problems, including physical assaults by staff and substandard health care.

Last month, frustrated ACLU attorneys went back to U.S. District Judge John A. Nordberg, asking for an outside party to be appointed to help institute the changes.

'Act in good faith'

Attorneys made the motion in the wake of continued reports of physical abuse.

Nordberg did not issue a formal ruling Wednesday, but he asked the ACLU and Cook County to use the established agreement -- including outside monitors that have been appointed -- to mediate some kind of resolution.

"I do require that both sides act in good faith to get together,'' Nordberg said. He noted there have been some changes at the center but said it was not entirely clear to him what the two sides were at a stalemate over.

The two sides seem to be in disagreement over one main issue: whether there is ongoing physical abuse of the residents as the ACLU contends. Attorneys from the Cook County state's attorney's office, who are representing the center, insist they have seen no evidence of such abuse.

"We've developed no information that seems to indicate that is correct,'' Cook County assistant state's attorney Patrick Blanchard said.

ACLU attorneys told Nordberg they would be willing to continue meeting to resolve the issue.

They also told Nordberg of an "untold number'' of communications, conversations and reviews of documents.

"What we are concerned about is the quality of care today," ACLU Illinois legal director Harvey Grossman said. "We need to protect the interests of 500 children.''

ACLU attorneys are continuing to gather evidence through visits to the center in case Nordberg calls for a hearing on the motion.

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