Juvenile center accord details told4 experts to set up improvement plan
Thursday, April 20, 2006
Special to suffredin.org
by Jeff Coen
A team of four experts would develop a new improvement plan for the troubled Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center under a settlement being worked out to avoid a showdown in federal court over conditions there, sources with knowledge of the deal said Wednesday.
A compliance administrator also would be named to make recommendations on reform if U.S. District Judge John Nordberg signs off next month on the compromise between the American Civil Liberties Union and the county.
No one in management at the facility for the county--including Supt. Jerry Robinson--would lose his or her job under the terms, the sources said.
The ACLU has alleged the county has been in violation of a 2002 memorandum of agreement that settled its 1999 class-action suit filed on behalf of residents at the center. The center is unsafe, juveniles housed there are routinely abused by staff members, and the county has failed to abide by promises to turn things around, the ACLU has argued.
Nordberg was to begin a full hearing on the matter this week, including testimony from county officials and center residents. But the sides on Monday informed the court that talks the judge ordered this year were moving in a positive direction, and Nordberg delayed any further court proceedings until May 3.
Those with knowledge of the possible settlement, which remains unfinished, said both the county and the ACLU would have their top concerns addressed.
The county would not lose complete control of the center, as it could have if an independent manager had stepped in as the ACLU had been requesting. Instead, both sides would agree on who the compliance administrator would be.
"In general terms, the county maintains its responsibility to operate the center," said Assistant State's Atty. Patrick Blanchard, the lead attorney representing the center.
If the judge signs off on the proposal, the team of four experts would develop an improvement plan within 60 days. The group would include two medical experts, including one who deals in mental-health issues, and two with general expertise in running such a facility, sources said.
The compliance administrator would make recommendations, and if they were ignored, a new round of mediation and court action would immediately be triggered, sources said.
"We think the agreement has a realistic chance of addressing the problems there," said Benjamin Wolf, associate legal director for the ACLU in Chicago.
The ACLU is eager to be out of an adversarial mode and "back into a mode of working together" with the county, Wolf said.
Some of the particulars of the deal are still to be ironed out, a source said, including who the compliance manager would be. Also in discussion is what would happen to staff members who are repeatedly accused of using excessive force against center residents.
That issue would be addressed for the long term in the plan to be developed by the experts, the sources said.
The office of Cook County Board President John Stroger on Wednesday issued a statement indicating support for the proposed settlement.
"The Stroger administration is pleased that both sides have tentatively agreed upon a supplemental order in the case involving the [detention center]," the statement reads. "As President Stroger has constantly admonished, there is nothing more important than our precious children who are our future, and we will continue to focus on the well-being of the [center's] residents...."
The center came under fire last year amid reports of dirty conditions, overtime abuses and accusations Stroger was using unqualified patronage hires to run it.
Several former residents have sued the county over alleged beatings they suffered, and this month the FBI confirmed it is looking into reports of staff abuse.
The county has denied any systemic mistreatment of residents.