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One more time ...

Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Chicago Tribune
Editorial

For the last three years, Cook County Board President John Stroger has tried every way possible to ignore the grim fact that the county's juvenile detention center is a dirty, dangerous place run by inept people.

Even when the county entered into a federal consent agreement in 2003 to fix the place, Stroger felt no compulsion to act. He and the people running the center did virtually nothing to comply with the agreement.

When this page detailed widespread problems last year, Stroger insulted those who dared to challenge him. He said it was his job to defend the center. He stalled for time by ordering up another study of the place.

Now, Stroger has no choice. He doesn't have to take the word of the American Civil Liberties Union. He doesn't have to take our word.

His own study is in, and here's what it finds: The place is a mess.

The study, orchestrated by the Annie E. Casey Foun dation, confirmed exactly what every other independent set of eyes has found.

- A pattern of violence by staffers against kids, including the potentially fatal use of chokeholds.

- Pitiful attempts to educate youths in the school attached to the detention center.

- Insufficient recreation activities and an institutional tendency to park kids for hours on end in front of the TV.

- Unqualified staff.

- Inadequate clothing supplied to kids, and toiletries that make many break out with acne or rashes.

- Fruit-fly infestations, stopped-up toilets and littered residential units.

- Inadequate bilingual staff to communicate with youths.

- Disrespect for due process rights and virtually no attempts to explain detention center rules.

It will take some fancy fandango for Stroger to dance his way around these latest findings.

But assume that he doesn't. Assume he finally, belatedly, owns up to the mess he's helped create. Wha t then? Stroger's priorities have focused on patronage, not children. The detention center is run by Stroger acolytes: relatives, friends, political lackeys. The administrators have been complicit in the "everything's fine" story.

Even if they all join in a loud chorus and admit the place is a mess, they won't be able to fix it. Anything short of a thorough house-cleaning will continue to waste more money, more time and more young people's lives. That scrub has to start at the top.






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