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'Political cronies' dethroned at juvenile detention center

Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times
by STEVE PATTERSON

Control of the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center is set to shift from unqualified "political cronies" to a team of nationally recognized juvenile justice experts.

An agreement approved Tuesday by county commissioners calls for a shared authority between appointed county officials and the team of experts.

But it clearly strips authority away from those handpicked by Cook County Board President John Stroger to run the facility and makes them answerable to an independent monitor of the center.

The agreement, set to be presented to a federal judge for approval Thursday, comes as a result of a federal lawsuit that includes allegations of kids being abused and mistreated at the center.

Last year, a national study showed more reports of staff abuse against children there than at any juvenile center in the country, while a self-assessment report issued in February by center staffers said much of the problems were because of "political cronies" with no experience put in key positions.

Now, there will be "an independent person out there whose directives cannot be ignored," said Benjamin Wolf, of the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the suit on behalf of children at the center.

Stroger aide: 'technical violations'

The lawsuit was originally filed in 1999, but in 2002 Stroger promised to make improvements that the ACLU says never came -- and reports show conditions worsened.

Stroger's chief of staff, James Whigham, said the county is entering into the agreement to improve "conditions for the children out there." Whigham disagrees with allegations of sweeping problems or rampant abuse. He said only "technical violations need to be corrected" to ensure "the safest, most secure and best environment."

Commissioners Forrest Claypool, Mike Quigley and Joan Murphy cast the only votes against the plan. Claypool and Quigley said the plan didn't go far enough. Murphy said money to pay for the monitor should instead go to programs at the center.

spatterson@suntimes.com

Copyright © The Sun-Times Company
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



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