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County to vote on juvenile reform deal

Saturday, May 13, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times

Cook County commissioners will be asked Tuesday to approve a measure to help reform the embattled Juvenile Detention Center.

The "agreed order" reached between county attorneys and the American Civil Liberties Union would create the post of an outside monitor to ensure children are being treated properly and will shift medical and mental health care away from juvenile center staff, according to those familiar with the order.

Last year, children who were at the detention center told the Chicago Sun-Times they were ordered into "fight rooms" to settle differences, and that guards -- some with criminal records -- often beat them.

Additionally, in a self-assessment report released this year, the center's own employees said unqualified, politically connected people were in key positions. It also alleged some staffers were slow to seek medical care for injured children.

Judge must approve it, too

Last year, an outside study showed the center has the highest rate of reported abuse in the country.

The agreed order is a result of a federal lawsuit originally filed in 1999 by the ACLU on behalf of children at the center who alleged mistreatment.

The county promised to make changes in 2002, but last year -- in light of the renewed abuse allegations -- the ACLU filed a motion asking a judge to force the county to adhere to its promises of better conditions.

The judge told both sides to negotiate a settlement and, after six months, they've developed an order that won't result in anyone being fired or held accountable for abuse and poor conditions. But it does allow for an independent monitor and the county's acknowledgement that some staffers have been fired for abusing children.

If the County Board approves the agreed order Tuesday, it will be presented to a federal judge Thursday for final approval.

The order allows for two months to plan the improvements and six months to implement the changes.

Attorneys involved in developing the agreed order have declined to talk about it until it has been approved by both the County Board and the judge.

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