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County approves juvenile jail agreement

Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman

Cook County's juvenile jail will get increased monitoring but no change in leadership under an agreement approved Tuesday by the county board.

Commissioners voted 9 to 3 in favor of the agreement, which still needs final approval by a judge.

Dissenters said the agreement had no muscle and was therefore pointless.

Studies have shown repeated problems with violence against children and hiring of unqualified employees at the facility.

The American Civil Liberties Union has an ongoing lawsuit against the county over conditions at the facility and pressed for the new agreement as news reports last year showed the county was not meeting terms of a previous settlement.

The new agreement calls for appointment of a new "compliance administrator" who will have no direct authority but who can make suggestions to facility superintendent Jerry Robinson.

If the suggestions aren't acted upon, the administrator can call for mediation and can bring the issue to court after 15 days. The county has six months to comply with all elements of the previous settlement.

Commissioner Forrest Claypool — who made conditions at the facility a major part of his unsuccessful bid for the county board presidency — blasted the new agreement as a "rehash of the old settlement."

"The judge in this case, it was pretty clear, had no desire to get his hands dirty," said Claypool (D-Chicago), who voted no, along with Commissioner Mike Quigley (D-Chicago) and, in a rare dissension from the administration, Commissioner Joan Murphy (D-Crestwood).

"We're just spending money, and I don't believe we can accomplish anything," Murphy said. "I think there are problems there; I don't think there are any more or any less than any other institution of that nature."

"I think there need to be changes made," said Murphy, who has previously supported management at the facility. "If it's the managers, and they're the problem, get them out of there."

Commissioner Jerry Butler (D-Chicago), who voted in favor of the agreement, also said he doubted it would do much good.

"Unless the monitors are going to live over there, they aren't going to change a thing," Butler said. "You can't come in on one day and expect change."

Chief of staff James Whigham, who has been running Cook County since President John Stroger suffered a stroke in March, denied there are systemic problems at the facility, despite findings of abuse and poor management in the county's own commissioned study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

"You have some ... headlines that have no basis of being proven," Whigham said. "What we have is some technical violations that needed to be corrected."

Jonathan Lipman may be reached at jlipman@dailysouthtown.com or (312) 782-1286.



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