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Juvenile center's own staff members say it's troubled

Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times
by ABDON M. PALLASCH AND ANNIE SWEENEY

Cook County officials defending their administration of the Juvenile Detention Center in federal court and before the Cook County Board will be faced today with criticism from a new source: within.

A new "self-assessment" by a team that included four current employees of the detention center concluded that much of the outside criticism of the center is true:
*"Front-line staff constantly expressed frustration with what they described as the 'political' environment of the institution, and viewed many employees, particularly those in administration, as 'political cronies' with 'no expertise or clue.' "

*Members of the assessment team saw counselors failing to get a youth with "a large and clearly visible injury in his forehead" to a doctor. Even a day after assessors insisted the youth needed medical attention, he had not seen a doctor.

*No effort is made to get kids back to class after a medical appointment or a session with a lawyer or getting their hair done. The barber always comes on school days. "In general, school attendance does not app ear to be a priority." The school and the center are "dueling bureaucracies." Teachers see the counselors as "unprofessional bullies." Guards see the teachers as "weak."

Teachers never give homework
*Though the library has $15,000 in new books, some students have access to the library once a week, others never. Staffers don't allow students to check out books because hard-cover books might be used as weapons. They won't even let students take pages upstairs to their rooms, so teachers never assign homework.

*"Youth were adamant that staff were abusive . . . and . . . that staff members use chokeholds."
"This self-assessment report confirms everything that we had heard as . . . apocryphal stories of everything going on there, confirmed by everyone who works there," said Cook County Board Commissioner Lawrence Suffredin.

"It goes to show you the difference between the rank-and-file, front-l ine workers and the administrators and bureaucrats who come through the friends-and-family plan and aren't qualified for their jobs," said Commissioner Forrest Claypool. "President Stroger has been in denial about the center despite outside studies and newspaper reports and federal lawsuits, but now his own people are telling him there are abuses at the center and politics and cronyism have run rampant at the expense of the kids."

The assessment may come up at a hearing this afternoon in U.S. District Court, where the ACLU has sued the county over conditions at the center, and at the County Board's regular meeting today where Claypool, Suffredin and others plan to ask Stroger about it.



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